The Periodic Table of Storytelling Will Help You

Attention everyone: We have found it. We have found the Holy Grail of online screenwriting/storytelling resources. If you’re a screenwriter and/or a complete glutton for geeking out, like we are, you need to stop what you’re doing immediately and check out Design Through Storytelling’s Periodic Table of Storytelling. Which — is exactly what it sounds like — a collection of story tropes organized by purpose and name. Just like the original periodic table designed by Dmitri Mendeleev.

Sometimes you find things during your internet adventures that make your heart swell with appreciation and nerdy delight for the glory of cyberspace. This is by far one of the coolest things we’ve ever found. Also it doesn’t hurt that its an incredibly helpful compendium of storytelling knowledge that is easier (and more fun) to navigate that flipping back to the table of contents in a screenwriting book.

Created by artist James Harris, The Periodic Table of Storytelling is designed just like the tabular arrangement of the chemical elements, except instead of being organized in groups of alkali metals and noble gases, you’ve got plot devices and archetypes. Harris included everything, like the different villain and hero archetypes, character modifiers, story structure, and setting/laws/plots.

And if that’s not enough, Harris includes 10 “simple story molecules” that can be formed when you combine certain story elements. So, if you’re a science nerd (redundant) and a screenwriter, you’ll just be in absolute heaven when you start playing around with this. Let us know what you come up with and how the periodic table of storytelling is helping you tell better stories!


Periodic Table of Storytelling

Periodic Table of Storytelling

Inside Hoff Production’s – the ups and downs

The film production business can be cruel, here’s a look at Hoff Production and their experiences in todays entertainment market.

2015 Snapshot

Hoff will deliver 40 hours to 6 buyers:

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Series for Science Channel

Mobsteel: Car series for NBC Sports Network

Behind the Screams: Crime/Horror series for Reelz

Animals Gone Wild: Clip series for Nat Geo Wild

Specials for Animal Planet and Nat Geo Wild

Breitling: Branded content for the celebrated watchmaker

Pitching Today

We asked Michael Hoff to share his insights into today’s drivers of the unscripted sector, and how Hoff Productions is managing them.

First, I asked him what have been the major changes in the pitching process for U.S. networks since 2011?

There are three clear trends…

Back to Brands

When it comes to branding, we’re definitely in a “Back to the Future” mode.

Networks are truly retrenching and trying to do whatever they can to bolster what has become an almost complete lack of brand recognition.

They are becoming more conservative and less likely to poach into other network’s territories.

However, given that a number of networks’ brands are extreme vague, the boundaries can still be hard to pin down.

Pricing Is Down

Networks are conflicted by the general decline in viewership matched by a decline in brand recognition.

For many of the major factual cable networks, there is now a clear, two-tier approach:

Their short term solution is to cut production budgets, and pay less for the majority of programming.

With some of the savings, they are investing in noisy blockbuster events that they hope will bring people into the tent and shore up branding. There is though still plenty of opportunity to deliver “value” TV.

That means for most programming production, price points are going down about 10%.


The importance of international programming is back.

Domestic networks struggling for production dollars need the support of their international colleagues.

At the same time international markets are becoming more and more important financially. The future dollars are overseas.

The US feels like almost a loss leader, a branding tool for the international strategy.

Given all of the above, there is once again a focus on the question: “Will these shows travel?”

Implications for Hoff

So given these trends how is the Hoff team pitching differently?

The type of programming needed today is right up our alley. So we are literally channeling what’s in our DNA.

We’re very conscious of price point. We research the networks’ budget sweet spots, and design our pitches accordingly.

We prefer higher price points, but we’re well known for delivering value.


We have a long history of both co-pros and commissions that travel well.

Our Factory, Crime, and clip shows have enjoyed a universal appeal for decades.

Examples are Ultimate Factories, Hooked: Monster Fish, Animals Gone Wild, and Extreme Forensics.

So our focus is on reinventing these franchise series, contemporizing them, and giving traditional content a new snap.


Our Development team extends across generations.

A wise exec once said that you need to have at least three champions in the room to get any project greenlit.

When we can work with different levels and generations of execs it makes it much more productive.

We are strong on human story-telling. There is more to good television than just process. We have to deliver heart, conflict, and humanity.


We’re smarter about space and equipment.  We no longer overreact to expansion.

When we needed office space, we didn’t rent more, we squeezed more in.

We kept our equipment purchases practical and limited, we didn’t overbuild.

Kept a key core of management and creatives, but quickly adapted to needs.

We quickly hired good new people, even if they were pricey.

And when we didn’t need their expertise, even though it was tempting to hold them, we let them go.

New Blood

We used to stick to mostly homegrown and local, but now we mix in very strong show runners and production staffing from around the country.

We’ve been able to introduce new people and new ideas without undermining our positive culture.

Diverse Slate

We’re known for noisy documentaries series and specials.  They are frequently narration-driven.  But that wasn’t enough.

We worked hard to create the skills and talent base needed for character-driven programming like “What Could” and “Mobsteel,” and it’s really paid off.

We still do the best clip-based series, but that’s just for starters.

We feel that we can do anything.

Better Production Management

This was a three year process of transforming our execs and our systems.  It was painful, but so worth it.

Our present team is so fast, so smart, and they completely understand the business inside and out.  They’re pros.

I Learned to Love My Clients

In the distant past I didn’t always understand or empathize with the challenges of our clients.

I found the process often annoying and even angering.

Now, I better understand their world view, their challenges.  And I understand if I want to succeed, our company and every team member has to not only deliver a product that works, but we need to do it in a way that makes our clients’ jobs easier.

We always need to be a part of the solution.

Michael Hoff’s Final Takeaways

Five years ago when you covered us in, we were on a high. I thought I had figured it all out.

But there were many ups and downs ahead, and until recently more challenges than ups.

Back then we knew how to develop, sell, and make the shows.

But we needed to evolve when it came to business and production management.  It’s taken 3-4 years to re-tool and rebuild our approaches and infrastructure.

Now, we’re on a roll.

I like to think we built a durable and smart engine designed to take the bumps and bruises, and still grow.

This business is not for the faint of heart. You have to love the content.  You have to plain love the craft of making TV shows.

Like the old Timex commercial says, now we can “Take a licking and keep on ticking.”

Then again I should probably use an analogy connected with our terrific branded client Breitling. Like them, we now have a history of innovation, we’re extremely durable, and every show makes a statement.


Mobsteel (NBC Sports Network)

Mobsteel on NBCSN – YouTube

‘Mobsteel’ is NBCSN’s Most-Watched Original Series Premiere to Date | TV By The Numbers by

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (Science)

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? | Discovery Science

Animals Gone Wild (NG Wild)

Animals Gone Wild – Nat Geo WILD

Behind The Screams (Reelz)

Behind the Screams on ReelzChannel

Killer Hornets from Hell (Animal Planet)

Breitling Branded

A sneak peak into the current film industry.

1. There is no such thing as independent film

The film industry is all run by the conglomerates and studios who hatch small boutique companies to trade on the name ‘independent’. These production companies are run by the same moguls as their bigger budget Hollywood counterparts. In this corporate realm, moguls offer actors scale work on the promise that the cool films and directors they work with will enhance their careers. The producers of these lower budget films are offered elusive back end deals based on the success of the distribution process. Of course any profit is gobbled up by expenses.

2. It’s who you know, not what you know.

A good political mind is a far better asset to a budding filmmaker than anything else. Get really good at building relationships with the people that will matter to your career; distributors, sales agents and journalist. While you are at it, find out who the hot new PR’s are, and budget their fees into your monthly budget.

3. Casting counts.

Forget talent. Low budget films are bought and sold depending on the cast. Develop your relationships with new and established talent. Prove to them that you are the ‘Next Hot Thing,’ Demonstrate your skills working with actors by taking gigs in fringe theatre and by directing award winning short films.

If pursuing talent is not your game remember that you can always play the genre card and make either a horror or science fiction movie where the concepts are generally so strong you won’t need cast.

4. Originality is shunned.

The film industry is very conservative. Remember that your original idea might just terrify a studio executive at a production or distribution company. Find the basic message of your movie and learn how to tone it down so the suits can swallow it. If you want to slip in some controversy, great, but don’t flag this during the pitch or you won’t get through the front door.

5. Want to get into a film festival?

All festivals get thousands of submissions. And who are you? You are unknown, untried and untested. The major festivals rely on a handful of their trusted advisers to recommend the films that will make them look good and guarantee good press and box office. It is these people you need to get to know and schmooze. It’s a fact of life. It’s the way it is. Develop a strategy for dealing with it.

6. Awards are meaningless.

We’ve had filmmakers in the past say they have won an award at Raindance. When confronted with the reality of the fact they didn’t win an award at Raindance, they say things like ‘But you sent me an invoice for the submission fees. I thought that was an award’.  Still, an award with the olive branches on the poster for your film gives it pedigree

7. No one cares about orphans.

Until you get a mentor or champion for your film, no one is going to care about you or your film. Until you get such a person – your film is an orphan. Despite what they say, no one in the industry gets a toss about orphans. There are so many of them. Don’t you be one.

8. Looks count.

The trick is to give your film a look, a style and presence that makes it stand out from all the other newbies clamoring for attention.

9. The industry loves new talent.

Oh no they don’t. The industry is petrified by new talent. Everyone inside the film industry is worried that someone smarter, brighter, more capable, younger (and cheaper!) will come along and snatch their job. The film industry shuns new talent.

10. The Truth.

There is no such thing as the film industry. It is a total misnomer to describe a collective of a dozen or more industries loosely linked by film. There are the camera manufactures, the equipment rental houses, the labs and post-production suites, the unions and guilds, the lawyers and accountants, the distributors and exhibitors (both on and off line) and of course the film festivals. None of these sub industries trust or even like each other. And they all pretty much hate filmmakers.

Everyone in the film industry lies. They lie about what they really think about your work. They lie about when they are going to pay you. They lie about you to their friends and colleagues. It is a pretty unpleasant and nasty business.

How do you survive?

By being honorable and truthful. Everyone, even the crusty owner of a lab will respect that. And respect gets you an awful long way in the film industry.

Elliot Grove

Elliot Grove founded Raindance as a thought experiment: Can you make a film with no money, no training and no experience, he asked? When people like his first intern Edgar Wright started making movies he started the Raindance Film Festival to celebrate their work in 1993, the British Independent Film Awards in 1998. Elliot has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films. He has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in pre-production. His first feature film, TABLE 5 (1997) was shot on 35mm and completed for a total of £278.38. He teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe, Japan and America. In 2006 he produced the multiple-award winning The Living and the Dead.

In 2013 he relaunched the production arm: Raw Talent with the cult film director Ate de Jong. Their first venture was the psychological thriller Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey. finished late 2013.

film production

Your Film Production Checklist

We hope this inspires you rather than scares you. 

In the following film production checklist, we broke the filmmaking process down into 65 steps.

We hope this will make your life a little easier.

Kickstart your film production. Here we go. . .

1. Before you get started, make sure you read and study everything you can about the filmmaking process. A good place to start is obviously the Filmmaking Stuff website.

2. A screenplay is the blueprint to your movie. Write or acquire a screenplay you want to produce. Make it something exciting!

3. Complete an initial script breakdown. From there, schedule and budget the project. How much does it cost?

Note: If you’re unsure how to break down and schedule a movie, Peter Marshall has an awesome Movie Script Breakdown course. Also, some invaluable production management software can be found at LightSpeed Eps.

4. Write a business plan that details how your movie will be made, marketed and sold – and how much this will cost you.

5. Talk with a lawyer and other producers to figure out your best money strategy. Will you utilize equity funding, crowdfunding and tax incentives to fund your movie? A little bit of everything?

6. Following laws and regulations, go after the money. This will require strategy, persistence, honesty and enthusiasm.

7. Finding, meeting and closing prospective investors on the merits of your movie will be one of the tougher parts of the process. Every “no” gets you closer to “yes.”

8. Most people will want to know how the money is going to be spent, what they can expect in return and how will you eventually get their money back. Filmmaking is a risky business, full of unknowns and you should ALWAYS disclose this.

9. Have a plan for the movie when it is complete. Will you take the festival route? Will you market it to colleges and universities? Will you send it directly to sales agents and acquisition pros?

Note: While it’s great to imagine that a movie distributor will hand you a million dollar check, this rarely happens. In fact, most movies end up in popular marketplaces like Amazon and iTunes, and others. You must plan for this.

10. After following these steps, you have been networking with prospective investors. The question is, were you able to get the money? If not, here are some (but not all) of your options.

A. Choose a new movie project.

B. Alter the screenplay to cut costs.

11. Get more favors and freebies. Seriously, write out a list of everything you can get for free, or at a discount. This includes props, wardrobe, locations, transportation and craft services!

12. Assuming you did get the money, pick a date for production. (And if you don’t get the money, go back and repeat step one.)

13. Hire a lawyer to help you with contracts and releases. If you’re short on cash, do a web search for lawyers for the arts in your area. These folks will usually help with minor legal stuff.

14. Before you have the money, many people will work for little to no money. Expect a lot of “nos” before you find the people who can help you.

15. You can make your life easier if you work with people who have production experience. If you are in a small market, reach out to people who spend their days producing corporate video.

16. Finalize your script. Get it to a point where you are no longer going to keep changing things. This is a locked script.

17. Number your scenes. Then once again, break down your script. This involves grabbing each element, location and character. From this information, create a final schedule.

18. From your schedule and breakdown, create a final budget. You probably know how much money you have to work with. If you find you don’t have enough you have two choices:

A. Get More Money!

B. Modify the script and schedule.

19. Get your crew. Work with a seasoned Physical Producer AKA Line Producer AKA Unit Production Manager to help you get organized. These pros will look at your schedule and tweak it.

20. Additionally, if you’re going to direct and product, having these pros around to help out will open the door to relationships with 1st Ads and crew. These folks will help you hire the right people. They will know a good payroll company. And many know a thing or two about tax credits in your state.

21. I know. Money is tight. So if you cannot hire a location scout, you may have to scout and procure locations yourself. This means you will knock on doors, introduce yourself, your project and your goals. The goal here is to appear reasonable and sane.

22. What can go wrong with a location probably will. So you will want to have a 2nd and 3rd location added to the mix. This way, should something happen, you will have a fall-back plan.

23. Assuming you’re directing your own movie, you will want to find a director of photography who shares your sensibilities and has equal enthusiasm for the project.

24. Your DP will help you find an asthetic for your movie. Given your cost constraints, you will most likely shoot in HD.

25. Marketing: Create a website specific to your movie. Make sure you have a way to get site visitors on your mailing list.

26. Later as you get into production, you will be able to add a movie trailer. (The goal: increase your mailing list subscribers and create a website you can later modify into a sales funnel.)

27. If you’ve raised money, you can hire talented actors interested in your project. But in the event your budget is tight, try to cast people with large social media followings.

28. Once you have all of your actors, you will want to find a location for a table read. Go through the script. If you wrote it, now is a time to take some notes for a final tweak.

Note: Anything you change in the script also changes the budget and the schedule. Seriously.

29. DO NOT skimp on food. You will want someone in charge of Craft Services. They should be good at going out and getting deals on food and catering. If you can not find anyone to do this for you, you’ll have to do it yourself. Allow me to repeat. . .

30. Make sure you have adequate food. If you are doing a union shoot, there are guidelines and rules you must follow. If you are doing a non-union indie, then some advice is: GET QUALITY!

31. Do you have all of your permits, releases and agreements? Do you have production insurance? There are so many different types of insurance, it will make your head spin. Make sure you talk with some experienced insurance professionals to make sure you have adequate insurance for your movie!

32. Meet with your Camera Department and find out how much memory you’ll need (assuming you’re shooting in HD). If you’re shooting film, which might be costly for your first feature – you will want to have an idea of these needs too.

33. Try to take as many naps as you can. This is a fun, but stressful time. So sleep. Eat. And take time to exercise.

34. Once you have all the above stuff checked off the list, you will want to meet with your department heads and make sure everyone’s needs are met. Assuming you’ve maintained limited locations, with a limited cast and crew, you will probably still be baffled by the amount of questions that come flying at you.

35. Seriously, you would think you’re making a gazillion dollar movie. But this is indication people care about their work. They care about the movie. And they want to make it a success!

36. This goes without saying, but don’t be a jerk. Seriously, never forget you are making a movie. Enjoy the experience.

37. Did I mention you need plenty of sleep? I am serious here. Making a movie is going to demand a TON of energy. You need to keep up with the physical and mental demands.

38. Commence production. Defer to your 1st AD and Line Producer to keep everything running on time and under budget. Keep your cool and always remember to have fun!

39. During production, try to constantly get press to profile your movie. It would be great to create buzz, get people to your website and get them to opt into your newsletter mailing list.

40. After the WRAP, have a wrap party. Don’t sleep with your cast and crew, get overly drunk or make a fool of yourself! You are a professional. Act like one.

41. After you recover from your hangover (I just warned you), you will probably start editing the movie. I suggest sharing the edit suite with another set of eyes. And do be nice to your editor. Those professionals can offer valuable feedback. Listen to it!

42. Your first cut will be rough. Screen it with a group of people who have never seen the movie. Get feedback.

43. Take the feedback and refine your edit. After that, take a week off – Do not look at the movie or mess around with it. This way, when you come back to the suite, refine and refine again.

44. Have another small screening with people who have not seen the movie. Take notes. Take those notes back to your edit suite.

45. Add some sound FX to your movie. Clean up actor dialogue and rough areas. Sound is more important than visual.

46. Screen the movie again. This time, have the screening with a new, small set of people. Take notes. Go back and refine.

47. When you have a cut you’re happy with, then you can begin to plan your next strategy. Find out how to sell your movie.

48. There are opportunities for traditional distribution. With some qualified professionals, analyze each deal. Find out if the deal will fit your business objectives. If not, PASS.

49. What if there are no traditional deals? If you planned accordingly, you will have a strong mailing list, a marketable hook and a plan for reaching your target audience.

50. When you are ready to start selling, refine your website into a sales funnel. Upload your movie to one of the many popular VOD platforms. Refine your movie poster and artwork to fit.

51. Upload your trailer to YouTube and all the other video sites on the internet. I prefer to stream from YouTube because I don’t have to pay for streaming and I can monitor viewer comments.

52. Write press releases related to the release of your movie. Have a blog component that details your movie and allows other people to comment.

53. Play around with your key words and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). If those terms are new to you, find someone in your network who understands the importance of the web.

54. Marketing is all about telling memorable stories and getting into the conversations. Adding your thoughts on website forums is one way to get the word out about your movie. But if you totally disregard the conversation – that’s bad form.

55. Create both a Facebook and Twitter handle for your movie. The purpose of this page is to lead people back to your site.

56. Have adequate social share buttons on your website so people can easily tell their friends about your movie.

57. If you have the budget, purchase some offline advertising in publications related to your movie. (This assumes you’ve taken time to define your target audience and ways to reach them!)

58. Wait. . . You don’t have a website yet? Stop what you’re doing and head to Bluehost and grab a domain name and website hosting for your movie website. (I prefer utilizing WordPress for all movie sites.)

59. All of these methods are intended to get people back to your website. The purpose of your site is to get people to watch your movie trailer and click the BUY NOW button. Anything that distracts these visitors must go! Install Google Analytics.

60. If your website visitors fail BUY NOW, then at least try to get them to opt into your mailing list. Do you need a mailing list?

61. Out of all the people who click the BUY NOW button, some will actually buy. If you have access to the contact information, reach out and personally thank your customer.

62. Assuming you are generating revenue, consider using that money to purchase more advertising and repeat the process. In internet marketing, they call this scaling a business. The name of the game is: “Conversion Rates.” Read this marketing article.

63. Sooner or later, you will figure out how to jump-start your next project. And you will realize that making movies and making money making movies is possible.

64. The thing to remember is long term perspective. On average it takes seven meetings to make a relationship! Most people quit long before they get to meeting number seven. Not you!

65. As a final thought, I would ask you to consider the following questions: Given the film production resources that you have right now, what is the movie that you will make this year?