Posts tagged screenplay
Posts tagged screenplay
Joss Whedon is most famous for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and the short-lived but much-loved Firefly series. But the writer and director has also worked unseen as a script doctor on movies ranging from Speed to Toy Story. Here, he shares his tips on the art of screenwriting.
1. FINISH IT
Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.
Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.
3. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY
This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys ?’
4. EVERYBODY HAS A REASON TO LIVE
Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue : you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny ; not everybody has to be cute ; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.
5. CUT WHAT YOU LOVE
Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.
When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.
7. TRACK THE AUDIENCE MOOD
You have one goal : to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.
8. WRITE LIKE A MOVIE
Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly ; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie ; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet ?’
9. DON’T LISTEN
Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system ; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction ; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up : they’d started talking about a different show.
10. DON’T SELL OUT
The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie : if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are : that’s called whoring.
If you have already failed out of this year’s Script Frenzy or have just had an epic fail in year’s past, you’ll love this hilarious day by day breakdown of trying to write a script in a month.
One thing I do want to point out, though, is that as much as the author of this post wastes time, he does actually finish in the end.
My only warning is there is some adult language so consider yourself warned there. Here is a taste:
Day 1: 30 days to go, but no time to waste. Open Final Draft, new document, title page: TITLE by Phillip Barron and some contact details in the bottom corner.
There, the perfect start.
That’s enough for today, I think.
Day 2: What the hell is this about again? Better look at the treatment.
Ah, right. I see.
That makes no fucking sense. Who signed off on this piece of shit? Better go back to basics, time to get the index cards out.
Where the fuck are my index cards? Right, I’ll go buy some new ones and start fresh tomorrow.
Day 3: Oh there are my index cards, on the index card shelf. What fucking idiot put them there? Never mind, you can never have too many index cards.
Mind you, 47 packets is perhaps edging in the direction of too many.
Right. Index cards. 8 cards, two for the first act, four for the second, two for the third. Give each one a title which describes the action in each sequence.
No, I can’t be arsed.
New plan, jot down some scenes and pin those fuckers up.
And perhaps a film.
Script Frenzy is coming up (the challenge to write a 30 day script in the month of April from the makers of NaNoWriMo) and you are thinking about writing a screenplay. No matter how many movies you’ve seen, more goes into writing a movie than you see on the screen so it’s definitely a good idea to do some prep work before you dive in. You can take a minute to read the Intro to Screenwriting article but here are some other things you should be doing to prepare for this writing challenge.
Debunking Screenwriting Myths, Part 2: Posting Scripts Online
by Geno Scala
Last week, we discussed the fallacious opinion that one must reside in Los Angeles to be a successful screenwriter. This week, we’ll discuss the posting of one’s script online.
There are many online sites out there that allow and encourage script placements for the purpose of marketing, sharing, giving and receiving feedback. Among the more successful sites include Ink Tip, Talentville, Amazon and Triggerstreet.
Some writers are apprehensive about posting their beloved projects for all to see, for fear of someone “stealing” the script, or the concept and making a fortune off of their hard work. This, in itself, is ridiculous, yet they’ll always claim they “know somebody who knew somebody…” The fact is that IDEAS cannot be copyrighted; federal law dictates only the expression of those ideas- whether it is a screenplay, treatment of synopsis- is copyrightable. Therefore, if someone takes your original concept- let’s say a comedy about a three-headed, half-man, half-goat President- then goes out and WRITES A BETTER SCRIPT, all is fair. Posting one’s script online is perfectly safe and just one of several marketing opportunities one should take advantage of if they can afford to do so.
Have screenplays and concepts been “stolen” before? Yes, and some writers have brought lawsuits against major studios making this claim. The writer of the screenplay that is believed to have been the “inspiration” of Matt Damon’s “Rounders”, Jeff Grosso, sued but lost. As did the writer for “Heart Copy”, who sued Focus Features for what he believed was the basis of “Broken Flowers”. Several others still have been settled out of court, and you can only imagine that some these writers managed to negotiate a payment and writing deal instead of bringing the practice of studios stealing ideas to light.
Another reason to post scripts to the public is to market YOU as a writer and a brand. While a particular script may not work for me, the writing style may catch my eye. Perhaps there is that one project that needs a certain writer’s flair that only you can provide. It’s just another avenue of opportunity.
The numbers of producers and industry pros who read these and get access to these scripts is more then you could possibly meet in a lifetime of meetings. Why not take advantage of it? So many writers have been discovered, and so many deals have been initiated through these sites, that it is foolish not to do so. It may be cost-prohibitive for some; I get that. But, like everything else in life, you have to make some worthy investment of time and/or money if your wish to make it at some level.
To paraphrase a certain “Evil Agent of Bad Advice” who claimed to “not know a single insider who looked at these sites”, I suggest this: Get yourself and your rolodex of insider contacts up off your arrogant butts and start stepping out some more, because they are missing the boat on many great scripts.
Don’t you miss it, too!
Geno Scala has been writing for over twenty years, and was one of the Executive Directors for the 1999-2000 Academy Awards presentation. He is an optioned screenwriter with nine screenplays to his credit, and is an alumnus of ScreenwritingU. He maintains a business in Hollywood, and resides in beautiful Huntsville, Alabama with his rocket-scientist wife, a daughter in grad school, another daughter in college in CA, and two teen-aged sons.
ellisanthonyandysuttonjr asked: How can I be sure that my dialogue is believable. I have been told that my dialogue is too formal and vapid and robotic and makes my characters sound as though they are reading straight out the dictionary. I have several ways to fix it. Use the slang I am familiar with; give people a scenario and have them improvise; listen to how people talk; research slang; and reading my words out loud. Do you have any other suggestions?
Dialogue elements in a screenplay are a grammar-free zone. People do not speak in grammatically-correct sentences and naturalistic dialogue tends to look…weird.
Consider this exchange:
“Hi Mark.”“Oh, hi Dawn.”In reality, that doesn’t happen. Instead, you get:
People don’t actually use each other’s names. They trail off into a verbal ellipsis. Verbs are optional. Before 9/11, I would spend a chunk of every day sitting in airport boarding lounges in seats adjacent to talkative couples, families, friends and groups and would transcribe their conversations as quickly as possible. These days, the coffee shop is probably a better locale, but less likely to have instant drama unfolding.
But when you’re writing, you have an obligation to bring craft to bear on your dialogue. This means subtext. Use dialogue to carry story forward without relying on exposition-heavy tropes like the convenient newscaster on the TV or radio that suddenly attracts the camera’s attention.
Let’s go back to your film-literacy question of a few weeks ago. Watch Pulp Fiction. Now watch any of the dozens of copycat “chatty criminals” movies that followed it. Now watch Pulp Fiction again. It’s the subtext to Tarantino’s dialogue that makes this a brilliant movie instead of a glorification of criminal foibles and hyperreal style.
The valuable publishing resource GalleyCat did a feature throughout the month of April last year. Every day of the month they posted articles and tips for Screnzy success. Here’s the complete set. (Click through to read more about any tip on the GalleyCat site.)