Interterm 2020
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3 – 5:45 p.m.
Location: MKS 119

Whether you’re an aspiring writer, producer, agent, executive, assistant, intern or gofer, sooner or later you’re going to be asked to write coverage. Your prospective employers are going to ask you for your samples. Your sample coverage. Your sample notes.

Before I was a screenwriter, I was a development executive at HBO, and before that, I was a script reader for Imagine, Amblin’, Tri-Star, Samuel Goldwyn, Universal, Disney, Columbia, among others. I have written thousands of pieces of studio coverage, and hundreds of sets of studio notes. In this class, I will teach you how to do it. And you will leave class with your own professional-quality samples in hand.

We will explore the art and technique of screenwriting from both the point of view of the screenwriter and the studio, using the writing of coverage and development notes as the template for discussing the elements of a screenplay.

Students will read scripts and write coverage and development notes. Students’ coverage/notes will be read by the class and workshopped. Students will practice the fine art of writing a tight, concise, and accurate log line and synopsis. Students will learn to “map” story elements: each week the class will do a “structure map” showing the script’s structural progression of character, theme, conflict, setting and plot over the course of the script. Students will learn to evaluate a script’s premise (the idea, the concept, the one-liner) separate from its execution in the script. Students will learn the difference between a writing sample and a submission, and how to evaluate both.

The scripts we cover in class will be, in most cases, anonymous, unknown and unproduced. Students will have the option to volunteer their own scripts to be covered and analyzed by the class (so, yes, you can get in some bonus workshopping of your own scripts) but this is not a requirement.

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John Mattson wrote Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home and Free Willy 3: The Rescue, two-thirds of one of the most successful live action family franchises in Warner Brothers’ history. (Siskel & Ebert called Free Willy 3 “the best of the Free Willy pictures.”) His screenplay Milk Money sold to Paramount Pictures for a no-option outright purchase of $1.1 million, a record for romantic comedy specs. His screenplay, Me, was named one of the ten best unproduced scripts by the Los Angeles Times. His pitch, Food, sold to Fox Animation and Jan de Bont, setting a new benchmark for animated pitches. He has sold numerous original scripts and pitches, in both features and television.

As a screenwriter, he has worked for Steven Spielberg, Kathy Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Walter and Laurie Parkes, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Richard Donner, Lauren Schuler Donner, Lynda Obst, Madonna, Joe Dante, Michael Finnell, Jan de Bont, Lucas Foster, John Goldwyn, Sherry Lansing, David Mickey Evans, and Richard Benjamin, among many others.

Prior to screenwriting, he worked as a development executive and Story Editor at HBO, contributing to the films And the Band Played On, The Josephine Baker Story, Heist, Somebody Has to Shoot the Picture, The Image, Framed, The James Brady Story, and others — and developing projects with Robert Bolt (Lawrence of Arabia), Julius Epstein (Casablanca), David Newman (Bonnie and Clyde, Superman), Alan Sharp (Night Moves), Frank Pierson (Cool Hand Luke, Dog Day Afternoon) and Christopher Reeve. After graduating from UCLA film school (B.A., Motion Picture and Television Production, with honors), he worked as a story analyst for Universal, Tri-Star, Disney, The David Geffen Company, Columbia Pictures, Amblin’, Imagine Entertainment, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, Dawn Steel Productions, Cher, Dino de Laurentiis, and United Artists, and as a transcriptionist and copyeditor for performer/monologist/novelist Spalding Gray.

In 2017, he earned an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from UC Riverside. His short story “Figure and Ground” won the 2018 R. N. Kinder Prize for Realistic Fiction and was published in Pleiades Magazine. In 2019, he won the Los Angeles Review Literary Award for Flash Fiction for his story “Eric Clapton’s Girlfriend,” which will be published in LAR’s “best-of” annual later this year.