June 9, 2012 – Writing the Action Movie

It’s the most consistently top-grossing genre in the world, beloved by audiences in almost every culture. It thrills, chills, and makes silver screen superstars out of wrestlers, body builders, martial arts experts, and wannabe boxers from Philadelphia. And it can be adapted to almost any setting Western, military, inner city, or outer space.

Of course, we’re talking about THE ACTION MOVIE!

What are the secrets to writing a great action movie? Is it just filling it with a series of mind-blowing stunts? A high body count? Death-defying cliffhangers?

Or is there actually an art to crafting a story that gets the audience to care about your hero and gets their blood racing as he or she careens around the screen trying to stop the bad guys?

Our panel of experts will talk about the current trends in action filmmaking, how they create tension, think up stunts that add to the story instead of feeling gratuitious, ramp up the stakes for their characters, and create the movies that dominate the box office around the world.

Zak Penn‘s career began as a screenwriter when he sold his first script, LAST ACTION HERO, at the age of twenty-three. Since then, Penn has become known for his work on numerous films based on Marvel comics, including X-MEN 2 and X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, ELEKTRA, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and most recently, THE AVENGERS.  He has also dabbled in other genres, writing scripts for disparate films such as P.C.U., BEHIND ENEMY LINES and SUSPECT ZERO.

Penn’s shift into independent cinema began when he collaborated with his idol, Werner Herzog, on the script for RESCUE DAWN.  Penn directed and co-starred with Herzog in INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS, his award-winning “hoax” documentary about the legendary director’s attempts to make a film about the equally legendary monster.  THE GRAND, Penn’s second completely improvised film, was his third film with Herzog, and featured an eclectic cast including Woody Harrelson, David Cross, Ray Romano, Cheryl Hines, Dennis Farina and Gabe Kaplan.

In addition, Penn co-wrote the original story for ANTZ and produced the animated film OSMOSIS JONES.  He has also acted in a number of independent films, including STAR MAPS and CHUCK & BUCK.  His first foray into television, the critically acclaimed original series ALPHAS starring David Strathairn, is entering its second season on the SyFy Channel.

William C. Martell has written 19 films that were carelessly slapped onto celluloid: 3 for HBO, 2 for Showtime, 2 for USA Net, and a whole bunch of CineMax Originals (which is what happens when an HBO movie goes really, really wrong).

He has been on some film festival juries, including Raindance in London (once with Mike Figgis and Saffron Burrows, once with Lennie James and Edgar Wright). He’s quoted a few times in Bordwell’s great book “The Way Hollywood tells It”.

His USA Net flick HARD EVIDENCE was released on video the same day as the Julia Roberts’ film Something To Talk About and out-rented it in the USA. In 2007 he had two films released on DVD on the same day and both made the top 10 rentals, and has two films shooting in 2012.

His book SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is back in print for Kindle and Nook.


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