Monday, December 27, 2010

Riding The Alligator

Strategies For A Career In Screenplay Writing (and not getting eaten) 
by Pen Densham

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin

Pen Densham is an accomplished and award-winning writer-director-producer and a principal of Trilogy Entertainment Group. He’s spent his lifetime in the business of entertainment, selling films and television series, as well as hiring, mentoring, and collaborating with A-list writers along the way. Pen created the story for the revisionist Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves and co-wrote and produced the screenplay with his Trilogy partner John Watson. He wrote and directed Moll Flanders for MGM, as well as writing and directing Houdini for TNT. Pen and Trilogy have produced fourteen feature films such as Backdraft and Blown Away and worked with talent like Jodie Foster, Morgan Freeman, Jeff Bridges, Robin Wright, Bill Murray, Ron Howard, Kevin Costner, & Sylvester Stallone. Pen is proud to have personally revived both The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone franchises for their return to television. Pen is also an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California’s prestigious School of Cinematic Arts. In his newest book, Riding The Alligator: Strategies For A Career In Screenplay Writing (and not getting eaten) (Michael Wiese Productions 2011), he welcomes you into the Pen Playground to show you the ropes, teach you to harness your imagination, and encourage you to ride into your adventures.

Pen’s natural enthusiasm and genuine desire to support others is a refreshing break and blessing for screenwriters. He has a special gift for inspiring and educating writers through his humor, insight, playful creativity, use of analogies, and candor about his various experiences. He shares his unique techniques for and philosophies on creating complex characters, story structure, editing, selling, pitching, and embracing your Imaginary Bears.

Because Pen knows that “no two writers think about our process identically”, he invited other successful screenwriter friends and colleagues like Shane Black Lethal Weapon, Nia Vardalos My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Eric Roth Forrest Gump, Robin Swicord Little Women, Ron Shelton Bull Durham, and Laeta Kalogridis Shutter Island to share their wisdom. He also includes an Instant Screenwriting Library of suggested reading with a review of each book, written by his USC students.

Riding The Alligator is highly recommended for all writers who want to put the PLAY back into their screenplay writing and color it with PASSION.

To learn more about Pen Densham you can visit his site at and purchase a copy of Riding The Alligator at Michael Wiese Productions, Amazon, The Writers Store, Barnes & Noble, or Borders.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Woman in the Story

Writing Memorable Female Characters
by Helen Jacey

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin

Helen Jacey is a screenwriter, teacher, and story consultant. She previously spent many years working for international aid agencies to provide psychological support services for women and children. She has taught creativity and self-development courses to hundreds of women. She graduated with an M.A. in Screenwriting at the London Institute in 2001, not long after completing her first screenplay. She has sold or optioned every screenplay she has written. Her interest in the stories of heroines led her to undertake a Ph.D. in Screenwriting at the University of the Arts London. She lectures on screenwriting at leading universities and holds her two-day seminar, Writing the Heroine’s Story, for many international screenwriters. She spends her time between the U.K. and Los Angeles. In her newest book, The Woman in the Story: Writing Memorable Female Characters (Michael Wiese Productions 2010), she gives you a rare look into what makes a compelling, unique, and unforgettable heroine in films, the secret formula for building her foundation, and all the questions you need to ask to bring her to life on the page.

Helen reveals the various roles that women choose in life (and sometimes that have been chosen for them, as history has demonstrated with the many cultures of the world). Often is the case, women will choose more than one role through-out their life. These role choices give women more depth, character, and distinction, compared to the typical stereotypes and archetypes, which are culturally created and have been the basis from which so many female characters in films have been conceived and portrayed.

She examines the primal, masculine-oriented, conflict/stakes driven stories along with the harmony, balance, and connection-oriented, union driven stories. Helen incorporates over 190 films and T.V. shows as examples to include characters like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist, Andrea and Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada, Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City and more.

Real-life heroines, through-out history, have been breaking the molds for women around the world; it’s our responsibility to not only tell their stories, but those of the present and future heroines as well. One of the most challenging things a writer must do is to not only observe others and the relationships in their own lives, but they must take a deep look within themselves (all the good, bad, and ugly parts). Every human being has faults, weaknesses, insecurities, an evil twin, made mistakes, buried wounds, and scars, along with good qualities and experiences too. Understanding human nature is the key to being able to write about it accurately and it must start from within.

I highly recommend The Woman in the Story for all writers who want to create more realistic, diverse, and memorable heroines in their stories; and, it’s not just about making your female characters unforgettable, but you as a writer as well.

To learn more about Helen Jacey you can visit her at and purchase a copy of The Woman in the Story at Michael Wiese Productions, Amazon, The Writer's Store, Barnes & Noble, or Borders.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Symbols • Images • Codes

The Secret Language of Meaning in Film, TV, Games, and Visual Media 
by Pamela Jaye Smith

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin

Pamela Jaye Smith has earned a respected reputation internationally for her extensive education and training in the universal language of visual imagery. She is a writer, consultant, speaker, and award-winning producer/director with over 30 years of experience in features, TV, music videos, commercials, documentaries, corporate and military films. In her newest book, Symbols • Images • Codes: The Secret Language of Meaning in Film, TV, Games, and Visual Media (Michael Wiese Productions 2010), she gives you insight into the world of visual imagery and teaches you how to use this silent form of communication to deeply connect with, better convey your message to, and have a more lasting impression on your audience.

Pamela examines a vast array of subjects like astronomy, colors, animals, numbers, anatomy, clothing, architecture, sex, and weapons. With each subject, she gives you a brief history and description of what it means; then, she shows you how and where to incorporate them into your projects. Her examples include films from the classics to cult favorites to last years Oscar winner. She includes fun exercises to help you apply what you’ve learned and an index for quick referencing of emotions, situations, and concepts with links to each subject.

Just like connecting the dots or piecing together a puzzle, learning to use symbols, images, and codes within your visual projects makes for a more complete picture. Because symbols and images affect people emotionally, they will also heighten the impact of your message, making it more effective.

When you’re creating visual media like films and television, you’re dealing with time constraints, so the images you use need to speak volumes to help convey your message; and then, the popular adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” will hold true with each and every one of your projects.

To learn more about Pamela Jaye Smith you can visit her website at and purchase a copy of Symbols • Images • Codes at Michael Wiese Productions, Amazon, The Writer's Store, Borders, or Barnes & Noble.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Save The Cat

The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need
By Blake Snyder

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin

Blake Snyder’s passion for screenwriting earned him millions of dollars and a reputation in Hollywood as one of the most successful spec screenwriters. In his book, Save The Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need (Michael Wiese Productions 2005) Blake will open new doors for you in the writing process and selling of your script.

His unique perspective on and approach to the fundamentals of screenwriting embraces the challenges that all screenwriters (aspiring and professional) face, like how to create a successful logline, hero your audience cares about, and solid script from fade-in to fade-out.

He sheds light on areas previously kept in the dark and shares secrets that will astound you with their simplicity. His techniques are easy and concise making their comprehension and application quick and effective. He uses numerous examples of well-known films through-out his book and each chapter concludes with a brief summary and a few exercises to get you going. He has a great sense of humor, while sharing some of his own personal experiences along the way, which makes Save The Cat a fun read as well.

While the heroes in his scripts do something good like “Save The Cat,” Blake Snyder is a hero for “Saving The Screenwriter” by sharing his invaluable knowledge. Blake says “screenwriting is like solving a puzzle over and over”; so, being the curious cats that we screenwriters are, always lured by mystery, here’s a clue: Read Save The Cat to help you find the missing pieces and put the puzzle (your script) together faster.

To read more about the late Blake Snyder you can visit and purchase a copy of Save The Cat at Michael Wiese Productions , Amazon , Barnes & Noble , or Borders.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mind Your Business

A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career 
By Michele Wallerstein

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin

With over 25 years of successful experience as a Hollywood literary agent, working for one of the top agencies and owning her own agency, Michele Wallerstein has a wealth of valuable information for writers in her new book, Mind Your Business: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career (Michael Wiese Productions 2010).

She is candid about some of the pitfalls and negative aspects of the business and reveals secrets and tricks of the trade only an insider knows to help you through them. She’s very encouraging and full of positive advice, which gives aspiring writers the support, help, and hope that they need.

Michele tells you what to look for when seeking an agent, an agent’s responsibilities in both a large and boutique agency, and the best way to communicate with your agent. She is thorough in covering all aspects of running your writing business from the costs involved (mentally, emotionally, and financially) to marketing, networking, socializing, meetings, and pitching your story ideas. She includes detailed legal advice and many sample contracts to study from, along with Hollywood terminology to familiarize yourself. At the end of each chapter, she includes a list of helpful exercises to keep you moving forward.

It’s definitely a book to keep by my side throughout my writing career and should be in every writer’s library. I highly recommend Mind Your Business by Michele Wallerstein for all writers (screenplay and novel), if you want to know how to make your writing career successful.

To learn more about Michele Wallerstein, you can visit her at and purchase a copy of Mind Your Business at Amazon


Thursday, August 12, 2010


By Brandilyn Collins

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin

In Brandilyn Collins’ book, Deceit (Zondervan 2010), she reveals some interesting insights into human nature and man’s natural tendency toward deceit, through the telling of a suspenseful, murder mystery. She takes us on a journey into the lives of characters that have deceived others and been mislead and we witness the line of thinking they go through in the process.

The protagonist, Joanne Weeks, is a skip tracer (someone who searches for people who’ve gone into hiding), which serves the theme of the story that centers on deception, people hiding in plain site behind a mask.

Most of us have met and gotten to know someone only to learn later, they weren’t the person we were led to believe. Baxter Jackson, the main antagonist in the story, has an upstanding reputation within his community as a church elder, successful real estate agent, and loving husband; but, not everything about his life is as it appears. As we look at some of the heroes in films, who go out and do all of those wonderful things, we find that…. well, even Superman was an impostor, who led a double life as Clark Kent, a newspaper reporter.

As we go through life, we begin to search for who we really are; we explore by playing different roles seeking familiarity and comfort. However, our need for love and belonging, along with our desire to connect with others and be accepted can sometimes lead us into pretending to be someone that we’re not; as Joanne Weeks says about Melissa Harkoff, the adopted teenager of Mr. & Mrs. Baxter Jackson, “when I knew her she seemed unsure of herself trying so hard to fit in.”

I highly recommend Brandilyn Collins’ book, Deceit, because not only will she keep you engaged with the characters and wanting to know who the killer is, she’ll give you a deeper understanding of yourself, others, and the human condition along the way.

To learn more about Brandilyn you can visit her website at and purchase a copy of Deceit at Amazon


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who Dares Wins

The Green Beret Way to Conquer Fear and Succeed
By Bob Mayer

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin

“In tough times, it’s the tough who succeed” states Bob Mayer in his book Who Dares Wins:The Green Beret Way to Conquer Fear and Succeed (Gallery Books 2009), which is written from the unusual perspective of a Special Forces Soldier and Artist. With our current economy, which forced many people out of their jobs and homes, it’s going to take not only a combination of being practical and creative for us to survive, but being able to conquer our fear to succeed as well.

Fear is the main obstacle that keeps us from achieving our dreams and goals; it’s an emotion that we all experience and during difficult times, we’re often faced with even more of it.

Who Dares Wins (Conquer Fear and Succeed) guides us through an understanding of human nature and our own character in relation to fear; it teaches us how to harness that fear and use it to our advantage. Think of fear as a horse blocking your path; you can put a harness on it and ride to your destination, getting there much faster.

I highly recommend Who Dares Wins (Conquer Fear and Succeed) for all of you who have a desire to succeed in any area of your life.

To learn more about Bob Mayer you can visit his website at and purchase a copy of Who Dares Wins at Amazon


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Getting Into Character

By Brandilyn Collins

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin

Brandilyn Collins’ book Getting Into Character:Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors (Wiley 2002) is written through the unique perspective of an actor. What do fictional writers and actors have in common?

As Brandilyn states, “We writers of fiction are alike in one way, we’re a mighty strange breed. We walk around with voices and shadowy figures in our heads. We tend to stare out windows, mumble to ourselves. The Normals can’t begin to understand us. Only our first cousins, the actors, can come close to matching our eccentricities. For we share the same goal; bringing characters to life”. How do actors and fictional writers achieve this goal?

We observe people everywhere we go from airports to restaurants. We take note of the smallest details from a facial expression to the tone of a voice. We become passionate students of human nature.

Brandilyn gives us an in-depth look into what makes a character come to life on the page using seven secrets taken from Method acting. I highly recommend Getting Into Character for all writers of fiction and especially screenwriters, because after all, we’re creating characters for the actors to bring to life on the screen.

To learn more about Brandilyn you can visit her website at and purchase a copy of Getting into Character at Amazon



Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eyes of Elisha

by Brandilyn Collins

Book Review
By Ann Baldwin

Throughout Brandilyn Collins’ suspenseful, murder mystery, Eyes of Elisha (Zondervan 2006), she weaves a very powerful message about visions from God (psychic visions) and relays the importance of asking for guidance, being patient for the answers, and paying attention by listening and looking for the signs.

The main character, Chelsea Adams, is given the gift of visions from God as she calls them; also known as psychic visions. When she receives a vision of a woman who’s been murdered, she struggles with knowing what she’s supposed to do with the information. This is a common issue that many people, who experience psychic dreams and visions, have to deal with. The questions most frequently asked are “why am I receiving this information?” and “what am I supposed to do with it?” Naturally, most people would want to help in finding the victim and get the killer off the street; but, it’s never easy for a psychic to share that information with law-enforcement. For a Police Detective to have their own psychic dreams or visions about the cases he or she is working on would be the ultimate crime solving tool; however, for those of us not in law-enforcement, it’s always a challenge to know exactly what we’re supposed to do with them.

For many years, I struggled with the same thing that the character, Chelsea Adams, did. I went in search for the purpose of my psychic dreams, especially those that involved crimes, killers and the locations of missing evidence and bodies. I asked myself and others the same hard questions “why am I receiving this information?” and “what am I supposed to do with it?” I knew my psychic dreams were there for a reason and it took me a long time before I finally understood their purpose in my life. I believe the purpose is different for each individual. I wrote a quote many years ago about that: “Stop, look, and listen; wait, be patient, and the answer will come.” I also wrote a screenplay and book, The Power of Dreams, a mystery and an inspirational story, where I share what that experience was like.

I highly recommend Brandilyn Collins’ book, Eyes of Elisha, because she’s written an incredibly realistic account of what psychics and police detectives go through in working together solving a crime. She tells the story with intense suspense and gives you food for thought along the way that keeps you flipping the pages wanting more. This is the second book by Brandilyn Collins that I’ve read and I never want the stories to end, because I grow so attached to her characters. To learn more about Brandilyn you can visit her website at and purchase a copy of Eyes of Elisha at Amazon


Dream Interpretation

This is my belief, based on my 34 years of researching, studying, and working with my own dreams; you are the only person who can truly interpret your own dreams. While I won’t interpret your dreams for you, I will help you to learn how to interpret and understand your own.

I say that you’re the only person who can interpret them for basically two reasons. One, everyone has a different definition for words; for example, if I put 10 people in a room and asked them to define the word love, I’d get 10 different answers. Two, your experiences in life with different subjects will change through time; for example, you could fear water for many years, because you didn’t know how to swim. However, once you learned to swim, you would no longer be afraid of water. So, if you dreamt of water during those earlier years, it’s going to have a whole different meaning, than it will in the latter years. In turn, being aware of how you currently feel about the subjects that you’re dreaming about is a major key to helping you to understand the dreams better.

Here is an exercise to help you begin:

Write down all of the key subjects like people, places, and things that are in the dream and then write out all the words you associate with those subjects; for example, lets say you had a dream about horses, now, ask yourself “how do I feel about horses?” and write out all the words that come to you.

Working with your dreams involves working with what is currently going on in your waking life. The spirit world, which we connect to through our dreams, works with the earthly world that we live in everyday. This can be a tough one to explain, but I’ll try.
I live in 3 different worlds; the earthly world, while awake, the spirit world, while asleep and the creative world, while awake and connected to the spirit world. And for those of you with a sense of humor the answer is yes, I’m awake with my head in the clouds a lot!!!! Ha Ha Ha & I thank God everyday.

I hope this gets you started on your own path, which will be a journey filled with incredible enlightenment and giving you more purpose and direction in your life.

Now that I’ve been up for 24 hours straight ……I’m going to sleep & hopefully have sweet, peaceful dreams.

Thank you for entering
The Land of Make Believe
Where Your Dream is What You Achieve.

Dreamboat Annie
Giving Those Without A Voice A Way To Be Heard.

Fear Blurs The Vision of Our Dreams

Learn to face your fear and overcome it, so you can focus on your dream.
by Ann Baldwin

Fear is one of the most powerful roadblocks to fulfilling our daytime dreams. Fear is what we experience, when we take our focus off our dreams. We experience fear in the same way, whether awake or asleep dreaming: your heart races and beats so hard you can hear it, pulse quickens, muscles tighten, freeze-up and you shake, body temperature rises, a cold sweat breaks-out, shortness of breath, light-headed, nauseous and blurred vision. We have three reactions to fear; either take flight (run), freeze (do nothing), or fight (face and conquer it.)

Here are ten common fears that prevent us from fulfilling our dreams: failing, success, being judged, emotional pain, embarrassment, being alone/abandoned, rejection, expressing our true feelings, intimacy and the unknown. There are many other fears, these are just a few. We must first face our fear, so we know exactly what it is. Then, we can take steps (action) to overcome it. Too often, we take fear at face value and run, never knowing what it is we’re running from. In-turn, we end-up running away from the very thing we really want (our dream.) Fear has then blocked us from moving forward. The other common reaction to fear is to remain frozen and do nothing; therefore, going nowhere.

The purpose of fear in our night-time dreams is to GET OUR ATTENTION! It represents an obstacle, a challenge and roadblock. Our night-time dreams are giving us the opportunity to see and overcome our fears in a safe environment. I’ve learned a lot about dreams through my study of Native American beliefs. They told their children that whenever they’re afraid of and/or running from something in their dreams, to turn and face whatever it is and one of two things will always happen. It will either disappear or become their friend. I’ve practiced this for many years now and know it’s true. So, observe, listen to and follow your dreams. They will show you your fears and teach you how to overcome them in a safe environment (next week I’ll talk about dream interpretation to further help you with this.)

Our dreams (both waking and sleeping) are here to teach us to have the courage and self-confidence to walk towards them and make them real. Learning to overcome our fears helps to build our confidence, so we can take action towards fulfilling our dreams. The first thing we do, when we want to accomplish something, is to mentally visualize ourselves doing it. Many years ago, I took a ropes course called, Tree-Top Challenges, which taught us to confront and over-come our fears through action.

On one particular event, we were asked to climb 70 feet up a redwood tree and then walk across a 1 foot in diameter log to another tree. Now, if we were on the ground, no big deal, we can walk with confidence across that log. However, the element of fear has now come into play and the psychological effect it has on us will determine whether or not we accomplish our task and fulfill our goal. Keep in mind we were wearing helmets and a safety harness (belay.)

We had two visions to choose from; what we wanted (dream-goal) or what we didn’t want (fear of something.). We already knew we could walk across that log. But our fear of falling 70 feet down was now weighing heavily on our mind and preventing us from moving towards our goal. The key was to STAY FOCUSED on our goal of reaching the other tree and take the first step towards it, which gave us the confidence we needed.

Our waking and sleeping dreams can look like a double exposure photo; where the images are mixed and overlapping each other (like the photo above.) They can appear translucent, fuzzy and blurry. This is what happens, when our fears go unchecked. The image of our fear blends or overlaps with our dream (goal) and we never get a clear picture. Knowing what we don’t want (fear of something) is just as important as know what we want (dream-goal). Once we recognize both, we can move forward with more confidence in fulfilling our dreams, by staying focused on what we want.

Thank you for entering
The Land of Make Believe
Where your Dream is What You Achieve.

Giving Those Without A Voice A Way To Be Heard.

Do You Deja Vu?

By Ann Baldwin

It’s usually a strange and eerie feeling to go somewhere or do something for the first time and experience it as if you’ve been there before. You have a compelling sense of familiarity, when déjà vu occurs. I experienced déjà vu often, when I was younger. I just figured I was a very old soul that had been around the block and back again one too many times. Then, one night while watching a movie in the theater, I had a new kind of experience with déjà vu.

My brothers had invited me at the last minute to go to the movies with them; they were going to see Ghost Busters. Because I wasn’t watching much T.V. or reading the newspaper at the time, I hadn’t seen, heard or read what the movie was about. As we were sitting in the theater watching Ghost Busters, I began to experience déjà vu. I not only had the sense of familiarity of having been there before, I actually knew where and when. I’d been there the night before in my night-time dream and had written it out in detail that morning. Many of the unusual scenes from the movie were in my dream the night before.

You can imagine how you’d react, if you had a similar experience. At first, it startled me and I gasped for air and jolted as if someone had scared me. Both of my brothers looked at me and whispered “are you ok?” and “what’s wrong?” I took in a deep breath, slowly exhaled, said I was fine and I’d explain after the movie. I was awe-struck through the rest of the film. It was the first time I was aware that I’d had a precognitive dream. Since then, when I start to experience déjà vu, I’m usually able to recall the dream.

While everyone dreams several times each night, most people don’t remember them and even fewer will write them out. Most dreams last from 5 to 20 minutes. We will spend about 6 years of our lives dreaming, during a typical lifetime.

I began recording my night-time dreams every morning, when I was a sophomore in high school. I was so intrigued by this new world of dreams that I started researching the subject. I got my hands on and read as many books as I could, along with attending seminars and lectures. We didn’t have computers or the internet back then. Kind of makes me feel like a dinosaur now. My dreams became more vivid and long like a movie. I’d gotten to the point where one morning I remembered over ten dreams; some were over fifteen pages long and filled with incredible details.

There are many people who believe that déjà vu is the memory of dreams. Because I remember my dreams and write them out, my experience of déjà vu is no longer strange and eerie; I feel comfort in knowing where and when I had been there before.

Thank you for entering
The Land of Make Believe
Where Your Dream is What You Achieve

Giving Those Without A Voice A Way To Be Heard

Keys To Remembering Your Dreams

By Ann Baldwin

• The first thing is to get a notepad and pencil or pen and keep them next to your bed (in reaching distance.)

• Set your mental clock and regular alarm to about an hour before you need to get up. In regards to alarms, avoid music and/or radio stations, because you need to reduce (preferably eliminate) all voices, influences and outside stimulation. The goal is to wake slowly and stay in a half-awake, half-asleep state.

• Upon waking every morning, begin writing out everything you do remember no matter what it is; I call these dream highlights. It could be objects, sounds, feelings or whole scenes. Don’t worry or think about whether they make sense or not. The important thing is to get as many impressions down on paper that you do remember.

• If you wake and have absolutely no memory of any part of your dreams, try this exercise. I created this many years ago to help trigger the memory of my dreams, because even after 34 years of working with them, I still have mornings where I don’t recall them right away.

Write down all the letters in the alphabet on the left side of the page; A on line one, B on line two and so forth. Then, write down the first words that come to mind after each letter. If four words pop into your mind for the letter A go with it, then move on to the next letter. If a word comes to mind that begins with the letter T and you’re looking at B words, then jump down and fill in the word after the T. The key is to follow the natural flow of thoughts. The second stage in this exercise is to write out common everyday things that we see and dream about like cars, food, animals, water, mountains etc. The more you remember your dreams, the more familiar you will get with what kinds of things you tend to dream about more often. All it takes sometimes is one word that will trigger the memory of your dreams.

The more you practice remembering your dreams, the more vivid they will become. Most of my dreams are like movies and I’ve trained myself to be able to fast forward, rewind, pause, and play them again. You can learn to do the same thing.

Thank you for entering
The Land of Make-Believe Where Your Dream is What You Achieve,

Giving those without a voice a way to be heard.