Posts tagged screenwriting
Posts tagged screenwriting
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.
Here’s the official announcement on this:
One thing that has made us proud over the years is how many people can call themselves scriptwriters because of Script Frenzy. Since 2007, the year Script Frenzy began, you and 85,000 other total participants have taken on the audacious challenge of writing a 100-page script—churning out nearly 1.4 million pages of original plays, TV shows, movies, and graphic novels.
While those numbers are impressive, we’ve struggled in other ways to put on Script Frenzy. Script Frenzy’s participant numbers haven’t grown along with our other writing programs’, and that has affected our ability to raise enough funds to put on the event because we rely on donations from participants to host them. Approximately 16,500 writers took part in Script Frenzy this year compared to the more than 350,000 writers who participated in NaNoWriMo, Camp NaNoWriMo, and the Young Writers Program.
As much as we wish we could continue hosting Script Frenzy, the OLL board recently voted to end Script Frenzy because it was operating at a loss that was unsustainable. I want you to know that this was an incredibly difficult decision, and one that was carefully considered for several years, but we have to do it for the overall health of the organization.
Even though we can’t continue hosting Script Frenzy, we want to keep its spirit alive as we focus on our mission of helping “children and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to achieve their creative potential.” We believe that everyone has a story to tell—and there’s no other organization as passionate about helping people tell their stories as we are.
Just as the impact of Script Frenzy will live on after the end of the program, we want to find ways to keep the community going as well. A Script Frenzy forum will be created on the NaNoWriMo site to host all things scripty, and help participants to stay in touch. We are also working on a way to archive the Script Frenzy resources so they remain accessible to participants.
On behalf of the entire OLL staff and board, I thank you for everything you’ve done for the organization. Your writerly spunk and derring-do has inspired us in so many ways. We’re so honored that we get to work with people like you who take such brave creative risks and embrace the challenge of making—diving into your imagination, following your whimsy, chasing fantastical creatures, or capturing the life around you.
Kudos also to the heroic team who made Script Frenzy such a creative adventure these many years: Chris Baty; Program Director Sandra Salas; past Directors Jen Arzt and Kristina Malsberger; the OLL board and staff; and our heroic Script Frenzy Municipal Liaisons.
Thank you, again, for everything. We look forward to more creative frenzies with you—because I know we all have more stories to tell!
Hi Frenzied Scribes!
Over the next four weeks we’ll battle with our daily page-count, attend write-ins, and strive to cross the finish line with 100-page scripts by April 30.
Whether it is your first trip or fourth, below is a guide that you might find handy. Fold it up, tuck it in your racing suit, and refer to it as needed.
Hours before the Frenzy: Set your time zone! You’ll find the time zone drop-down menu in your user profile under “Edit Account Settings.” Our page count validator uses your time zone to know when your “Fade In” and “Fade Out” begins and ends, so it’s important to make sure you do this step, so you can be crowned a winner on April 30.
April 1/Page 3.33: Start writing! I’ll stop by your inbox with a pep talk, and we’ll type those pages together! Login to your profile, click on “Edit Writer Info” and do your first page count by uploading a PDF into the “Page Count Validator,” or on the honor system by manually typing in the your page number into the page count block. You might want to add excerpts of your script to your profile, and share it with the world.
April 3/Page 9.99: Use the time this week to get ahead of your page-count.
April 8/Page 26.66: Week one is behind you! Realize you’ve written 26.66 more pages! Hug someone you love! Give her a high five! OK, now roll up your sleeves; the second weekend of April is here! If you’ve fallen behind, use this time to catch up. A new pep talk email will arrive just in time to give you the inspiration you need to keep on writing.
April 10/Page 33.33: Fantastic! You’ve written a third of your script! Hooray!
April 15/Page 50: Hate your characters? Questioning why you decided to write a script in April? Just know you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. Together we have written 50 pages, and we’re halfway there! Back up your script, and then celebrate! With 50 more pages to go, it’s time to rekindle the fire. Find a write-in if you haven’t already. Get to your local midway party to meet people writing in your area.
April 17/Page 56.66: Keep your head up, and stand proud! You’ve been writing for 17 days straight! You are a superstar!
April 19/ Page 63.32: You have written 63.32 pages. Doesn’t it feel good to have made it this far? You are brilliant!
April 23/Page 73.33: It’s Municipal Liaison Appreciation Day! Municipal Liaisons (MLs) are local volunteers who help organize Script Frenzy groups in their hometowns. They set up meet-ups, write-ins, kick off and wrap parties, and other events during April. If you’ve attended an ML-run event then you know how awesome our MLs are! They’ve been phenomenal in guiding you through the Frenzy so take a moment and show them how much you care! It’s their day to shine!
April 25/Page 83.33: Winning is activated! All around the website, progress bars will fill up, and winner certificates are claimed (and by claimed, we mean printed at home). You have from now until the end of the month to upload a version of your script to the page count validator for your official count. It’s also Script Frenzy Donation Day! Share the exhilaration and make a donation. If everyone donated just $10 we’d be golden.
April 28/Page 93.32: Don’t fret if you are behind. There’s still time to catch up because it’s the last weekend of Script Frenzy! Stock the refrigerator or order out! Pick up your favorite coffee, sweet treats, protein bars, etc. Create a playlist of songs you want in your film. Jam the tunes, and get to writing!
April 30/Page 100: It’s the last day! Be sure to run your final page count before midnight, and then jump for joy! You’re a winner! Spend time with the people you’ve neglected in April. Get a massage, treat yourself to a nice dinner, or attend a local Script Frenzy wrap party in early May. You’ve earned it!
I’ll stop by your inboxes once a week with a pep talk, and experts will be filling your heads with advice along the way. Remember to please add me to your address list! firstname.lastname@example.org
Get ready to have a blast!
Stocking my writing pit with boxes of dark chocolate bars,
Script Frenzy Program Director
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.