A letter of gratitude to AMC

In 2014, AMC premiered a show called Halt and Catch Fire. Airing right after the mid-season finale of Mad Men‘s final season, the show began with a large number of viewers and dwindled down to almost non-existitent ratings within the course of 10 episodes. Most networks would have ended things then, but for whatever reason, AMC decided to give Halt and Catch Fire a second season. Ratings didn’t improve. Then they gave the show a third season on a different night. Ratings got even worse. Just when it looked like the show would meet its end, AMC surprised everyone by renewing Halt and Catch Fire for a forth and final season, which premiered August 19th, 2017.

What a season it’s been. What a series it’s been.

Thank you, AMC. Thank you, too, to show creators and show runners Christopher C. Rogers and Christopher Cantwell for creating a television series that was (and is) unlike any other. Read More »

Customer Service: It Matters More Than You Think

Nobody becomes a successful salesperson by treating customers poorly, especially in a competitive sales environment. That’s why almost all entrepreneur training drills deep into the importance of providing an exceptional customer service experience.

So why is it that big, well-established companies think they can succeed and become market leaders when their customer service experience is horrible?

I’m going through a nightmarish drama with a too-big-to-fail retailer right now. It’s triggered my investor mind far beyond the $20 being held hostage by this retailer to a fundamental question of where executive priorities are and whether the customer service experience itself is a precurser to shifting market trends.

Here’s what happened. Read More »

What I’ve Learned in My First Year as a Business Owner

It was a year ago that Val and I made a decision that would change our lives. Hard to believe it’s already been a year. I can still remember how tentative everything was, how there seemed to be these contradicting sensations of both unbounded optimism and total non-permenance. I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but none of them has stamped out what has become a successful business.

No, we’re not driving Lexus SUVs and living on a horse farm outside of Lexington (yet), but one year in and our business is completely debt-free and has been for eleven of the past twelve months. I’m prouder of that fact than I ever could be of any fancy SUV.

So, what has owning this business taught me? Read More »

Why I Love Mad Men (And Why I’m Sad to See It Go)

AMC's Mad Men Poster - Final Season

Don Draper driving off into the sunset, cigarette in hand

AMC’s Mad Men is a show a lot of people just don’t get. I wasn’t a fan from day one. In fact, the first episode I tried to watch on TV—toward the end of season 2, where Joan’s fiancé rapes her in Don’s office after-hours—was a definite turn-off for the show in general. Still, as a lover of all things retro, I couldn’t avoid the Mad Men buzz. I broke down and bought the season 1 DVD in 2009, but never even opened it (it’s still unopened, by the way). It wasn’t until I discovered Netflix in 2010 that Mad Men became a story I watched, and even then, it wasn’t love at first sight. It took almost an entire season, until the scene where Betty shot the birds, to even begin to understand that Mad Men is a show about everything you don’t see on screen and how almost nothing we do see on screen is real.

A lot of people think Mad Men is a grotesque glorification of alcoholism and adultery. Indeed, Don Draper’s illicit sex life and constant drinking takes center stage throughout much of the series. Truth is, Don Draper is a lost soul. Don’s promiscuity and self-medication is but a manifestation of how lost he is.

A lot of people are lost.  A lot of people sitting in church pews are lost. A lot of people with advanced college degrees and high-paying jobs are lost.

It’s rare we see a character on television or in movies as lost as Don but with so much material togetherness. Don is wealthy. Extremely, obscenely wealthy. Lost characters are usually portrayed as bums or or slobs or aimless drifters who can’t reconcile the responsibilities of adult life with their perpetual need to remain in a child-state. Not Don Draper. Don has everything most of us want—money, a large house, expensive cars, a gorgeous spouse. Yet Don Draper has nothing, because Don Draper isn’t even Don Draper. If you’ve never seen the show, this probably doesn’t make any sense. If you don’t want spoilers, you should probably stop reading now, because spoilers are on their way en masse. Read More »

GIVEAWAY: Three Act What? Great Story Structure and Why You Need It

Three Act What? by S.J. Murray

UPDATE: Twitter user Amber Crafton received her free copy of THREE ACT WHAT? today. If you’re a writer, be sure to follow S.J. Murray on Twitter and pick up your copy of THREE ACT WHAT?

Aristotle described story structure as such, “A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end.” As uninspiring as that may seem, this is the foundation upon which all good storytelling is built: the three-act structure.

If you’re a writer and you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve heard about the three-act structure ad nauseum. I can remember my kindergarten teacher going over it in class—and, while I’m thinking about it, thank you for that!—and revisiting it almost every year during school. Odds are, you’ve been exposed to it just as heavily. But how many writers really understand the three-act structure?

There’s countless writing books that expound on it. Blake Snyder may be remembered for the storytelling techniques and beat structures he proposed in Save the Cat, but in that book, he also gave a fairly concise method for outlining screenplays with index cards using the three-act structure. I believe that before any writer can make use of tools like Snyder’s beat sheet or even outline effectively, they must first understand the fundamentals of storytelling structure: the basic three-act structure.

A while back, I was fortunate enough to discover S.J. Murray’s wonderful book, THREE ACT WHAT? As a student of writing for nearly two decades, I found myself highlighting passages and taking notes like crazy.

Who is S.J. Murray? She’s an emmy-nominated screenwriter, Hollywood story consultant, and professor at Baylor University—trust me, this book is well worth reading, and it’s priced at only $4.99.

Thanks both to her generosity and the generosity of her publishers, Livingston+McKay, I have a promo code for a copy of Three Act What that to give away on Friday, July 4th, 2014. This is an interactive ebook published on the Snippet platform, and can be read in a web browser or on a tablet. Some of the best features about this book are the  videos included at periodic intervals, either expanding on the subject of the chapter or expanding on the craft of writing itself.

To enter, leave a comment on this blog post, on my Facebook, or send a reply to me on Twitter—BEFORE MIDNIGHT July 3rd, 2014—telling me how a better understanding of story structure would improve your writing. The best responses will be put in a random drawing and I’ll announce a winner on Friday, July 4th, 2014. I’m seriously excited for whoever wins because I know it will help you become an even better writer.

Follow S. J. Murray on Twitter. Follow Livingston+McKay on Twitter or on Facebook.

Never Stop Learning. Ever.

When the Jim Carrey movie Bruce Almighty hit theaters, I thought it was the most blasphemous concept for a movie I’d ever heard. I mean, Morgan Freeman playing God? And then vacating His powers to Carrey? Yet when someone finally sat me down with a DVD copy of the film and assured me it wasn’t as blasphemous as I thought, I found that I really liked the story. I especially liked the conceit that, even though we all think we know what’s best for everyone around us, if any of us had our way all the time, it would seriously mess everything up. As a whole, people have too many conflicting interests and too many conflicting world views. Plus, the examination of free will in the film is as good as any sermon I’ve ever heard. It was the first time I ever watched a movie and came away with big questions about my own theology and worldview. The closest I can remember to experiencing this before was after reading Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, and yes, some tiny part of my soul just died upon realizing that I’d made a favorable comparison between that masterpiece of a novel and a Jim Carrey film.

Years later, when Bruce Almighty‘s “sequel” Evan Almighty was released, I wanted to like it. I wanted to have that same experience again. Yet, as more and more marketing materials poured into the church where I was working at the time, I slowly came to realize that Evan Almighty would be nothing like Bruce Almighty.

Read More »

Why I Stopped Using Celtx

Notice that the title of this post is why I quit using Celtx. Not why you should, not why anyone else should, and certainly not why I think Celtx is rubbish. In fact, I loved Celtx for many, many years.

After the demise of Sophocles 2003 software in 2007, Celtx became the tool on which I cut my screenwriting teeth. I will forever be grateful to Greyfirst Corp. for the development they made on Celtx. Going from early versions to the last desktop release, version 2.9.7, there was always a great palette of tools—index cards, a scratchpad (invaluable), embedded notes. I wrote my first three features in Celtx, countless shorts, and started all of my current screenwriting WIPs on Celtx. I even won a screenwriting competition using Cetlx software. But I’ve moved on… and here’s why. Read More »

And the Winner Is…

168 Film Project Write of Passage LogoThe tuesday before Thanksgiving, November 26, 2013, I clicked on Facebook and saw these words: “And the winner is…” followed by… nothing. After being named a finalist in the 168 Film Project’s Write of Passage screenwriting competition, I had dreamed of seeing those four words followed by my name. I figured it was pretty much a long-shot. This was my third year, but the first time I’d made it to the finals. After reading through the other finalists scripts, I was absolutely convinced I’d be lucky if someone picked my script out of the top 10 semifinalists to turn into a Write of Passage Spotlight Film.

So, with a defeated mindset right out of the gate, I clicked on the 168 Film Project website and read this page.

Did you read it? Did you see it? I stared at that page slack-jawed for quite a while, convinced I was hallucinating. Read More »