James Kicklighter is a multi-award winning writer/director whose work has been recognized by the world’s press, including The Hollywood Reporter, The Times of India, Film Courage and FilmInk Australia. His first feature film, Desires of the Heart, was released theatrically across India in November 2015. The film was an official selection of numerous festivals across the United States and around the world, including the Cannes Marché du Film and was the winner of Best Foreign Film at the Los Angeles Femme Film Festival. In May 2016, James completed Digital Edition, a documentary about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s transition from print to digital as they operate in a new media environment. Additionally, he is revising his first book, the biography of famed entertainment publicist Bobby Zarem, and shopping the coming-of-age screenplay Escaping Bellview, featured on The Black List, SpecScout, Slated and most recently, named to the Top 50 in the 2016 International Screenwriters’ Association Fast Track Fellowship. James is developing several films with a southern voice for producers Richard Saperstein (The Mist, Se7en), M. Elizabeth Hughes (Short Term 12, Girlfriend’s Day) and Beau Turpin (Beneath the Leaves, Counterpunch), including The Perpetual State of Georgia from Casey Nelson and Kate Murdoch (The Last Treasure Hunt) and Erk, a biopic about legendary college football coach Erk Russell. He serves on the Advisory Board for the Department of Communication Arts at Georgia Southern University, his alma mater, where he was recently chosen out of over 30,000 living graduates to be listed on the inaugural “40 Under 40 Alumni” for “impact in business, leadership, community, educational and/or philanthropic endeavors.” Full Bio »
Over the past few decades as the media landscape has changed, so have methods for reporting and information gathering. Your Stage 32 Next Level educator, award-winning director, James Kicklighter, has personally learned this while directing his new documentary film, Digital Edition, profiling the digital tools changing media as we know it.
In “Deconstructing Oscar-Winning Films: Spotlight, Network & All The President’s Men,” we will evaluate and deconstruct common methods deployed in these three groundbreaking films to tell stories about journalism and media. Through this process, we will identify the successful techniques from these masterpieces for directing and writing movies about the media we consume.
While filmmaking isn’t typically thought about as “investigative,” to create a film about journalism and media, it requires extended research that goes beyond writing the fictional screenplay. We will evaluate the preparation process of interviewing industry professionals, utilizing research to inform the written narrative, and how to visually manifest the themes on screen.
You will walk away learning techniques to help your directing, writing, acting and producing to help you improve your projects!
As an added bonus - ***Get 3 FREE Oscar-Winning Scripts: Spotlight, All The President's Men & Network***
Live Q&A with James!
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There's nothing like listening to one who is passionate and educated on the craft of Filmmaking. James is a voice for aspiring filmmaker's ears. Thank you for the well outlined course. - Emeka Mbadiwe
I have been recommending the Short Film Master Class to film makers since I completed it. It is entertaining and contains so much information. Not only does he cover "how", but includes the "why". James is phenomenal. - John Garrett
Insightful, informative and entertaining! A must for the rookie and the pro alike. James hands you tools to utilize in today's viral distribution market. After the course, you'll feel empowered and prepared to shoot, distribute and publicize your next project. - Jaye Lowe
This was a great class! James effectively takes you into his journey of becoming a filmmaker. He shares his experiences of what to do and what not to do. Taking his class has put me on the right track as I start my film making career. Thanks James! - Cecilio Chopper Martinez
As you know, independent film is enjoying a resurgence. Whereas a few years back, it seemed as if getting a low budget indie off the ground was a Herculean task, now, especially with the rise of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+ and other streaming platforms not only purchasing indie fare, but producing it on their own, lower budget independent films are back in high demand. However, to take advantage of the current gold rush, you must understand what makes an independent script attractive to managers, agents, producers, development execs, financiers and others in a position to greenlight your screenplay. For most writers focused strictly on the craft, the disconnect between a script that gets high marks for the writing, yet still has a problem drawing attention of managers and agents or finding a buyer, is a lack of knowledge as to the current marketplace. It is vital that you understand the creative and commercial realities of the business. Everything else streams from there including all the aspects that you will need in your screenplay to make it a no brainer for the aforementioned gatekeepers and decision makers to want to get involved with the project. With so many screenplays flooding the market, reps, producers, filmmakers, financiers want to choose those screenplays that already have the heavy lifting toward getting the script into production already figured out. James Kicklighter is a multi-award winning writer/director whose work has been recognized by the world’s press, including The Hollywood Reporter, The Times of India, Film Courage and FilmInk Australia. James began his career raising funds for numerous small budget short films, which allowed him to move into award-winning feature films. Most recently he directed The Sound of Identity about the first transgender woman ever to perform as Don Giovanni in a professional opera. The film is produced by Emmy Award-winning producers Russ Kirkpatrick & Andy Kinslow and executive producer Josh Bachove (Lizzie, Yoga Hosers, The Little Hours). James will teach you the ins and outs of writing a producible, low budget independent feature that will draw the right attention. He'll start by diving into the marketplace and how you can research, review, and understand the current landscape. He will then discuss how to choose material, create compelling, deep, and unique characters, and how to write using accessible locations. He will teach you how to optimize the screenplay for production, including some tips and tricks to help a filmmaker and/or producer understand how they can schedule efficiently just by reading the script. If you are looking to control your own material, James will even dive into how to attach talent and modify the script while in production. "James has style and class to spare. I've taken over 20 Stage 32 webinars and this was one of my favorites." - Theo K. "So much detail and so much information. Makes me look at my scripts in a whole new light." - Amanda D. "I've had so many screenplays that have received Consider or Recommend coverage from executives in this business, but I've never been able to get one of these screenplays launched and I could never understand why. Now I do. The writing is there, but the awareness to a producer's needs can be better. I'm on it. Thanks, James." - David V. "I learned something today. I want to produce my own work. Actually two things. I CAN produce my own work. This webinar was worth its weight in gold." - Martina S. "There’s nothing like listening to one who is passionate and educated on the craft of Filmmaking. James is a voice for aspiring filmmaker's ears. Thank you for the well outlined course.“ - Emeka M.
Almost every successful filmmaker today—from Ava DuVernay to Rian Johnson to Chloe Zhao to Ryan Coogler—got their start by writing and directing their own short films. It’s so common of a springboard for creatives that most managers and executives actively incorporate scouting short films as part of their recruitment model when looking for new talent or new ideas. If you're an aspiring writer or director ready to make a living as a filmmaker, mastering the art of crafting a short film can be the perfect launching tool for your career. Simply putting together any short film isn’t going to be your instant ticket into the industry, however. Tens of thousands of filmmakers produce new short films every year. With so much competition, how do you make your own film stand out? How can you avoid the mistakes that riddle the writing and directing process of making a short film? Once your film is made, how do you get it out to the world aside from just uploading it on YouTube and hoping people view it? And what can you do to convince investors and producers that you're ready to make the leap into bigger projects? James Kicklighter is a multi-award winning writer and director whose work has been recognized by the world’s press, including The Hollywood Reporter, The Times of India, Film Courage and FilmInk Australia. He has directed nine short films that have found success at film festivals around the world as well as through distribution. He is currently developing projects with Richard Saperstein (THE MIST, SE7EN) and Beau Turpin (COUNTERPUNCH). His latest feature film THE SOUND OF IDENTITY, about the first transgender woman to perform as Don Giovanni in a professional opera, was released this year and is produced by Emmy Award-winning producers Russ Kirkpatrick & Andy Kinslow and executive produced by Golden Globe-winner and Academy Award-nominated Josh Bachove (MINARI, THE LITTLE HOURS). In this 2-part exclusive Stage 32 Masterclass, you will learn: How to write, direct and distribute your own short film The art of writing a short screenplay How to develop strong characters that will attract top acting talent, while working within a budget that the average aspiring filmmaker can afford. The process of directing your first short How to get the cast and crew that you want How to raise money and setup the budget, How to select the right camera and technical equipment, How to work with locations and your actors to maximize your production value. Insider tips for distributing and marketing your final product - a step that most filmmakers never learn. Hw to target film festivals, cultivate relationships with media, and create a launch strategy that will best serve your film in the present while preparing you for the future.
Once you finish your screenplay and decide it’s time to reach out to producers and representatives, one of the most common responses you may receive is that your idea is not ‘high concept’ enough or your logline doesn’t have a ‘high concept hook’. This term is thrown around a lot in the movie business, but what does it actually mean? ‘High concept’ might be a buzz word, but it’s also a term that carries with it significant meaning as well as some lessons and perspective you can bring back to your own project if you know how best to approach it. Readers, producers and buyers see so many spec scripts that have no chance of becoming films not because the writing isn’t great, but because the writer did not spend enough time on concept. It is one thing to fall in love with a story idea. It is another to stick with it during the uncomfortable phase of working on that idea to make it more enticing to the world. So how can you ensure you consistently develop ideas that excite readers and push your script toward a sale? How do you know if your idea is “high concept” enough? What exactly does “high concept” even mean? Andrew Kersey is a literary manager and the head of Kersey Management whose clients are working on projects at all the major studios and streaming outlets including Netflix and Amazon, and the networks and cable channels ABC, Fox, NBC, CW, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon. Andrew recently just sold his client's sci-fi spec script to Universal with THE SOCIAL NETWORK and FIFTY SHADES OF GREY Oscar-nominated producer Mike De Luca, and his client’s comedy VACATION FRIENDS is in production at Broken Road for Hulu starring John Cena and Lil Rel. Andrew has helped his clients pitch countless projects and knows better than most what buyers are looking for and how a high concept approach can make all the difference in getting that script sold. Andrew will break down what makes a script ‘high concept’ and how you can write and sell your own high-concept screenplay. He’ll nail down exactly what a high concept story is and offer examples of high concept movies in different genres, explaining what makes them successful. He’ll then break down why high concept stories are so appealing, from the perspective of producers, studios, and audiences. Next Andrew will delve into how to actually write a high concept story and whether you can adjust your existing screenplay or write one from scratch. He will go through breaking down genre walls and other writing tips you can take with you. Andrew will then teach you how to sell your high concept story. He’ll talk about the importance of your logline and title and give you tips to pitch your high concept story to execs and buyers, including how to explain your world and use comps. Finally he will go over common mistakes writers make when creating high concept stories and will reveal where not to begin and whether size and budget matter. Expect to leave this webinar with a much clearer idea of what makes something “high concept” and a series of tips and ideas you can bring back to your own project to better sell it. "Throughout my time as a literary manager, the term "high concept" has come up more times than I can count. The writers that I work with that are most successful are the ones that understand what this term really means, what buyers are looking for, and how they can adjust to fit this idea. I'm excited to share these secrets with the Stage 32 community." -Andrew Kersey
There are a lot of reasons why the surge in popularity of podcasts is so exciting right now. It makes that rush hour commute to work much more enjoyable for millions of people every day. It opens up avenues for more stories to be discovered and more storytellers to create. And it’s a format that can be a lot easier and more affordable for independent artists to produce. You don’t need cameras, you don’t need a set; you just need a quiet room and a couple of microphones. And unlike visual media, podcasts provide a format where high concept, traditionally expensive genres like fantasy, action, and science fiction are just as achievable as more contained styles—if you want an alien in your podcast, for instance, you don’t need to invest in CGI; you just need an actor to say “Look! There’s an alien!” The art form of podcasts can be an equalizer in a way film and television have never been. It gives independent voices the ability to create something great and display their abilities, all without having to take out a mortgage. Plus, it gives you the ability to create IP that you control - all while helping you build a loyal following to serve as champions to help you carry your message. That’s not to say producing podcasts is a walk in the park. There is a whole lot that goes into it, and there is a lot you need to do as a podcast producer to ensure your project sounds good, feels professional, and holds its own against the big guns. It might be less expensive, but making the foray into audio fiction can be a daunting prospect if you’ve only worked in film and television (or have never produced before). There are some questions where you might not even know where to start: How do you find and cast voice actors? What kind of microphone should you use? How do you edit audio? What about sound effects? Do you make them yourself or can you source them from somewhere? What aspects of production should you be investing most of your money in? And once you have a finished product, where do you even put it so people can start listening? Mike Disa is currently the director of the highly praised Netflix show Paradise PD and has been working in the industry, both in television and features, for two decades. With no film training or knowledge of the byzantine workings of the entertainment business, he eventually found success and has worked with studios such as Dreamworks, Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, and many others. Over a fascinating career, Mike has worked with some of the greatest and most infamous people in Hollywood including Steven Spielberg, Eric Goldberg, Ralph Bakshi, Glenn Close, Steve Oedekerk, David Tennant, Amy Poehler, Adam Sandler, Jeffery Katzenberg and Roy Disney. Always an innovator, Mike recognized the interesting time right now for developing material based off of IP and took it upon himself to adapt his feature script SENTINELS: POINT OF NO RETURN into a 12-part podcast series, which is now produced. Having recently gone through the experience Mike is excited to share his approach and his lessons learned producing his adaptation exclusively with the Stage 32 community. Mike will walk you through everything you need to know to produce your own successful podcast. He’ll begin by discussing pre-production and how to know when your script is podcast-ready. He’ll give you tips on finding and setting up your recording and delve into the audio equipment you’ll need to invest in, including how to find the right microphone that’s also affordable. Mike will also discuss the process of casting, finding the right voice actors for your parts and how to navigate read-throughs and rehearsals. Next Mike will teach you how to actually produce your podcast, including how exactly to record, recording pitfalls you should avoid, and what the directing process looks like. Then he will discuss podcast post-production and how to use your recordings to paint a full audio picture. He’ll tell you which editing software to use and how to find music and sound effects to compliment you project. He’ll also discuss where to take your project for post-effects. Finally, Mike will go over how to distribute your finished podcast. He’ll outline hosting services that are available and how to upload your episodes online. He will give you tips on how to create your own website for the podcast and how to publicize it. He’ll also explain why you don’t want to charge money for the final podcast. Throughout, Mike will illustrate the process by using anecdotes and lessons learned from his own podcast SENTINELS: POINT OF NO RETURN. Expect to walk away with a full picture of the steps you need to take to produce, record and distribute your own successful podcast. Praise for Mike's Stage 32 Webinar: It was outstanding. Mike was thorough and generous with his own experiences. Very very well done. -Rebecca R. The webinar was well structured with clear and informative slides. Mike gave so much information in a way anyone could understand even with out any industry knowledge. -Justine W. I thought Mike as a great teacher. I loved the content and his ability to share his knowledge and experience in a very upbeat way. -Rama R. I have been curious about Podcasting so joined this Webinar. Mike was meticulously detailed about the ins and outs of it from beginning to end. I took copious notes; I was fascinated by everything he said and he said every thing that needed to be said about the entire process. He was so detailed, stressed what NOT to do as well as HOW to do it. He is a superb instructor. It could not have been presented in a more succinct manner. -Marietta K.
Whether we’re talking about a comedy or drama, sci-fi or horror, a film or television series, animated or live action, short-form or long-form, having good characters is essential. There’s no escaping it. Even a script with everything else going for it, if it doesn’t have strong, compelling characters, it’s not going to work. Great characters connect the audience to your world and ground it in humanity. They provide stakes, bolster your plot and keep it moving. It’s therefore crucial to understand what make an effective character and how you can create that in your own project. Unfortunately there’s not a step-by-step guide to crafting the perfect character. There’s no secret formula and there’s no surefire algorithm. Good characters are complicated and hard to define because so are people. Good characters hold a mirror up to reality and let the audience see themselves or someone else they know in them. And all of that might be fine and good in theory, but what does that actually mean in practice? If you’re a writer how can you create a character who serves as a mirror, who will stick with audiences long after the movie or show ends? And if you’re a producer or director, how can you recognize a great character from a mediocre one through the written word? Lee Sternthal is a screenwriter, director and photographer who has written screenplays for every major studio, including TRON: LEGACY for Disney, as well as scripts for Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson and many others. His film, THE WORDS starring Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Jeremy Irons was an Official Sundance Film Festival selection and was later bought by CBS Films. Lee is a Sundance Institute Fellow, and his work has appeared on The Black List. Through his writing career, Lee has spent more time than most considering the art of character and using that to aid his own career, as well as writers he continues to mentor and champion. Lee will walk you through the power of character and how to create great characters for your own project. He’ll begin by discussing why exactly characters are so vital to story and will teach you the key differences between a TV character and a film character. Next he will give you a brief history of character in storytelling and reveal the one fictional character from history that all other characters draw from. Lee will then discuss the difference between heroes and anti-heroes, as well as help you determine which of your characters is the driver and which are the riders. He’ll then delve into the art of a great antagonist and why an interesting adversary is so crucial to a successful story. Lee will help you frame your story through the clarity of need, both in character and in story. Next Lee will go over the classic Hero’s Journey and slightly re-imagine it for modern times. He will give you strategies and exercises to better understand and develop your own characters, including his “What’s Their God?” and “Changing A Flat Tire” games. He’ll then teach you the concept of revealing character through behavior and hiding character with words. Next Lee will delve into the idea of how your characters fit into your world, including how the environment might change your character. He’ll teach you the Shakespearean approach to character and compare it to the Balzacian approach, and will also discuss the difference between neuroticism and human comedy. Finally Lee will go over the dance between plot and character, illustrating how the two should work with and against each other to create a feedback loop that’s necessary for any great script. Praise for Lee’s Webinar “Great insight. Really helped me in moving forward.” -Martin R. “I really enjoyed Lee's perspective on script writing. The examples he provided were very helpful. I'm very appreciative that he would share his knowledge, some of his techniques and be so generous with his encouragement.” -Simone L. “Lee had a great way of explaining how to get a feel for the character and why they have the traits they do. Lee did a great job of covering a lot of character related topics which I am glad I have been exposed to.” -Karl H.
How To Build Your Suspense From The Ground Up And Craft A Thriller With Earned Twists, Turns and Thrills If you're paying attention to the trades and seeing which screenplays and projects are being sold and produced, you know that psychological thrillers are highly in demand. With films like Joker, Ma, Escape Room, Glass, Ex Machina, The Invitation, Get Out, Happy Death Day, The First Purge and many more, companies like Blumhouse have propelled the production of thrillers for an audience hungry for suspense and thrills, making creepy, crawly movie-going experiences all the rage. With box office receipts in the billions it's clear that the appetite for psychological stories is raging. And, it's a more exciting time than ever to be able to a screenwriter or filmmaker who has a suspenseful thriller you want to tell. But the art of writing a psychological thriller is one of vulnerable characters, deep secondary characters, memorable set pieces, set ups, reversals, and earned twists and turns. There's a formula to it all, and those who master these skills win the day. Writing a psychological thriller and creating and maintaining suspense and high stakes throughout takes an immense understanding of the history of the genre. It's a genre based in Hitchcockian roots. One that needs to have certain elements in order to be effective to keep the audience involved, engaged and on the edge of their seat. While most psychological thrillers start off with a well thought out premise, that's all they have. The action starts quickly and then falls flat. In many other cases, the premise is in place, but the writer or filmmaker doesn't know how to get past the jumping off point. You must get your hook in place quickly - within your first five pages - and that takes skill. You need to truly create compelling characters, especially protagonist and your villain, and make them layered in order to support your theme and plot and to assure the audience always knows and is invested in the stakes. To be truly successful at getting your reader's attention, keep those pages turning and set yourself up for an offer of representation, an option, a sale, or financing, you need to understand all of the nuances that make a great suspenseful story before you type (or read) FADE IN. Steve Desmond is one of the best in the industry today writing suspense and psychological thrillers. His most recent feature screenplay, Harry's All Night Hamburgers, was adapted from a Hugo award winning short story and was one of the highest priced spec sales of the last 5 years, selling to Warner Bros. in a bidding war worth 7 figures. The film now has Oscar Nominated Producer Andrew Lazar (American Sniper) producing via his Mad Chance production banner and Ted Melfi directing. He has recently been tapped by Film Nation to adapt The Cabin at the End of the World, a Harper Collins title from author Paul Tremblay. The psychological horror and suspense novel centers on a vacationing family terrorized by four strangers who claim to be either attempting to bring about or trying to avert the apocalypse. His short film, Monsters, has played in over 100 film festivals worldwide, winning 43 awards including Best Short Film at the Comic-Con International Film Festival in San Diego and was a finalist at Stage 32's 3rd Annual Short Film Program. Steve filmed Monsters to serve as a proof of concept for his feature script, Twisted Avenue which is now in development. Needless to say, thrillers and suspense are in Steve's blood and the focus of all his writing. And now he's bringing all he's learned along the way to you. Steve will help you build your suspense from the ground up. He'll teach you the ultimate tool you need - the Hitchcock Ticking Clock Method which will help you on your way to setting the vital groundwork for your story. You'll learn how to create a compelling protagonist and an enticing villain. Steve will give you exercises you can use to craft your own characters and give you 5 must have tips on backstory and character confessions to give depth. You'll learn how to hook your reader in the first 5 pages and what the 3 different teasers you can write for your opening. You'll explore the power of murder in your script and the art of a twist ending. He will show you how to craft your script with producers in mind to give yourself the best chance to have your material attractive to the widest audience possible. Steve will go over how you can incorporate visuals into your story and break down case studies of Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. And, finally, Steve will share some advice on how to get your script on the screen by writing it in a producible budget. You will have a fully immersive experience from a suspense expert that will leave you excited, inspired and confident to tackle your next psychological project. This webinar was AWESOME!!! I just finished a thriller and now as a result of listening to Steve Desmond, I am ready to do a re-write which I believe will be one of the best screenplays I have ever written. Let's see what happens! - Michelle C. What a thrilling and insightful webinar, excellent!! - Kathleen W. Super helpful information that you don't find in books! - Pamela C. Very useful information - well structured and clearly presented! - Sara C.