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An Evening with Jim Burnstein (February 16, 2000)

Jim Burnstein is the screenwriter of Renaissance Man and The Mighty Ducks 3 (co-writer with Steven Brill and Kenneth Johnson)

Mr. Burnstein has a University of Michigan English Major, and is currently working there as a visiting writer in their screenwriting program, and teaches a screenwriting class. His class meets on Monday evenings from 6-9 p.m., and leaves him the rest of the week to do his writing.

Mighty Ducks...Renaissance Man

Jim was originally in law school. He tried free-lance advertising and journalism (easy he says) in Birmingham, Michigan.

He broke into screenwriting via Ed Asner, actor, of the Mary Tyler Moore Show and later, The Lou Grant Show (two popular TV series out of the past). Ed Asner helped Jim to make contacts with other writers. He read some of Jim's scripts, but in the end Ed Asner didn't think he could use Jim's scripts on his show.

Next Jim Burnstein met Ray Stark and Timothy Hutton, and nothing much happened.

Renaissance Man evolved as Jim Burnstein began to write about his own experiences as a teacher at Selfridge Air Force Base near Detroit, Michigan. At this point, Jim's agent quit, but gave him a new agent to use. This "new agent" was the first agent's boss.

Michael Douglas showed some interest in Jim's writing as well, but Jim's scripts were never shown to him.

The process it took, to get Renaissance Man (1994) from paper to the movie screen, was composed of MANY re-writes. Jim did his 7th re-write for Penny Marshal, director of Renaissance Man, and he did 8 re-writes for his part of the Mighty Ducks 3 (1996) script that was finally produced by Touchstone/Disney. Tom Hanks and Danny Devito read his scripts. Danny DeVito loved the Renaissance Man script, and he became the main character, Bill Rago (ad man turned teacher). Jim explained that through all these re-writes that his script storyline changed dramatically. Everyone had their own "catch" on what it should be like. To get from the beginning of his idea for Renaissance Man until it was made into a motion picture, took Jim Burnstein ten (10) years.

The University of Michigan called upon Jim to teach there, at the university, after Renaissance Man was screened in the movie theaters. One of Jim's students sold his first script in three months after his class. However, statistically, only 5 out of 20 screenwriters will get jobs. It is a tough field. Very competitive!!! There is a screenwriter's library at University of Michigan (Temporarily offline) with all the past screenplays that were produced there on campus.

Jim Burnstein has had Spike Lee, Jeb Stuart, and PT Anderson as guest speakers in his classes.

Jim brought us copies of: Shakespeare in Love, The Truman Show, and Pulp Fiction (a Quentin Tarantina screenplay - New York: Hyperion/Miramax Books, 1994),. It was interesting to see the actual scripts.



Excerpt from Shakespeare in Love by March Norman and Tom Stoppard, Miramax Film Corporation and Universal Studios:

Int. Will's Room. Day.

A small cramped space in the eaves of a building. A cluttered shelf containing various objects, wedged between crumpled pieces of paper. Among those we have time to observe: a skull, a mug that says A PRESENT FROM STRATFORD-UPON-AVON.

At infrequent intervals further pieces of crumbled paper are tossed towards the shelf. The man who is throwing them, WILL SHAKESPEARE, is bent over a table, writing studiously with a quill.

Now we see what he is writing: WILL is practising his signature, over and over again. "Will Shagsbeard ... W Shakespur ... William Shasper ... " Each time he is dissatisfied, and each time he crumbles, and tosses it away.

Suddenly WILL becomes impatient. He jumps up and goes to the loft area in the rafters, where he sleeps, and starts to pull on his boots. At this point the door opens and HENSLOWE walks in. He is out of breath and his feet hurt (5).


All in all, it was an interesting and inspiring evening we spent with Jim Burnstein.

Writer's Digest - The Howdunit Series

  1. Bintliff, Russell, Police Procedural: a writer's guide to the police and how they work.
  2. Blythe, Hal; Charlie Sweet; and John Landreth, Private Eyes: a writer's guide to private investigators.
  3. Chase, Elaine Raco and Anne Wingate, Amateur Detectives: a writer's guide to how private citizens solve criminal cases.
  4. Corvasce, Mauro V., and Joseph R. Paglino, Modus Operandi: a writer's guide to how criminals work.
  5. Corvasce, Mauro V., and Joseph R. Paglino, Murder One: a writer's guide to homicide.
  6. Faron, Fay, Misssing Persons: a writer's guide to finding the lost, the abducted and the escaped.
  7. Mcctire, Sean, Malicious Intent: a writer's guide to how murderers, robbers, rapists, and other criminals think.
  8. Newton, Michael, Armed and Dangerous: a writer's guide to weapons
  9. Page, David W., Body Trauma: a writer's guide to wounds and injuries.
  10. Stevens, Serita Deborah, with Anne Klarner, Deadly Dose: a writer's guide to poisons
  11. Wilson, M.D.,Keith D., Cause of Death: a writer's guide to death, murder & forensic medicine
  12. Wingate, PhD., Anne, Scene of the Crime: a writer's guide to crime-scene investigations


    • Borcherding, David H., Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer's Sourcebook, Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books, 1996.

    • Kenyon, Sherrilyn, with Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet, The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook, Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books, 1994.

    There are many more such titles by Writer's Digest on Medieval, Renaissance, Old West, Victorian Times, etc., to give your books a sense of reality:

    Taylor, Dale, The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Colonial America. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books,1997.


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