At the end of 2013, I quit my job and took the plunge into screenwriting. Since then, I’ve written four feature specs and a few short films. While I’ve yet to to receive an option or commission, I have picked up a few tricks which help save time and money – two very valuable commodities for a – let’s say speculative – profession, a few of which I list below for my fellow beginners.
One thing I realised early on is that there are big advantages to using a Tablet/Bluetooth Keyboard combo over a laptop. They are lighter – (makes it easier for hauling it around – very important for a café guerilla like me) and apps are usually much cheaper and simpler than programmes.
Here are my tips for tablet working:
Download Screenwriting Books, don’t buy the hard copy.
Yes, I know. There’s nothing better than the feel of a real book when reading a novel. However, the major advantage of downloading Screenwriting Books – apart from being weightless – is that it saves a ton of time referring back to useful passages you have highlighted. Whether it’s iBooks or Kindle you use, there’s no more leafing through page after page for that killer quote you’re sure was on page 7, or was it page 49? And a few suggested titles:
£7.44. An interesting new take on developing the inner journey of the protagonist using the “Virgin” Archetype. Uses relevant examples from films such as Bend It Like Beckham and Billy Elliott (though, ironically, The 40 Year Old Virgin is considered an “anti-Virgin” archetypal journey).
£12.91. Very influential book (recommended by George Lucas) on the Hero archetypal journey with examples from throughout history and around the world. A vital book about storytelling (not simply Screenwriting). There is no downloadable version at present, I simply include this because of how important it is.
£4.83. A great book which forces you to focus on the key motif of the screenplay and your personal connection with it as a way of approaching pitching to executives, an art form in itself. I was surprised about how it also helped the redrafting of the script itself for the same reasons.
Write Loads of Notes Direct To Your Tablet
You’ll need to be able to not just make but organise the no-doubt copious notes you will be writing on your screenplay idea. Word unsurprisingly is the best app for collating notes with a number of back-up options. You may not know, however that the basic version is now free, even on iPads. And the basic version is probably all you’ll need – I wrote this article on it. You just need something that does the job, but if you need to feel like you’re Hunter S. Thompson, there’s always Hanx Writer, with the authentic sound effect of a typewriter. Booze and fags not included.
Build The Structure Of Your Screenplay
When your random notes start to coalesce into your narrative, hold off on writing the screenplay. Build the structure first. Some great apps for this.
£13.99 (offers in-app purchases). I’m talking about the App, not the Book. An Index Card System with headings, based on Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat method, including sections such as Characters’ Six Things That Need Fixing, Beat Sheets, Linking Setups and Payoffs and many other tools – a complete end to end system.
£2.99. If you want a freewheeling approach to structuring your screenplay, or just need a scrapbook for ideas, this could be for you – pick whatever headings you want and get going. Backs up to Dropbox. Saves needing to put up a chalkboard in your bedroom.
Free, upgrade is £4.99. I hated the idea of “mind-mapping” when I worked in the corporate world, but I find it works for screenwriting. Maybe it has something to do with applying it to something you actually want to do. Good for focusing on the central idea of your script and making sure all of the other ideas branch off it. Keeps you honest, encourages detail and drives creativity.
Use an App To Format Your Screenplay To Industry Standard
I’m still surprised by how many people try to use Word. All that tabbing and checking the font size and margins. The fact is using an app to format your screenplay for you will save you tons of time. Some suggestions:
£20.99. Probably the best one, contains the essentials of the Final Draft programme, and I love the way it synchs with Dropbox when it autosaves.
£3.99. What’s also great with Celtx is that with an account you can collaborate online with one other person for free (I’m doing this right now for a webseries). For collaborating on anything more than this, eg using Celtx Production Tools it’s a paid-for subscription service.
Back up, back up, back up. PS: Back Up. Do not neglect this. I know too many horror stories from my friends who, for example, have lost entire novels. Many services offer more than enough GBs totally free: Dropbox – first 2GBs are free, Google Drive and OneDrive both offer up to 15GBs free.
It’s a writer’s occupational hazard that the edge of the iPad becomes their horizon. We’re such shy creatures, really. However, your tablet can help you get out, sharing ideas, collaborating – and don’t underestimate the therapeutic value of the occasional bitch-fest (yes, with a b not a p).
App and website. This is becoming the main web network for specialist groups.
Two main factors determine a good group. Firstly, the Organiser should have a clear vision of what they want to achieve. Secondly, the people. If the members are in the main a bit strange, move on – because there are plenty of good groups out there.
A few examples – Let’s Make A Scene – great bunch, very open. I have already learnt a lot directing two films and working on many others.
London to Hollywood: Actors, Screenwriters and Film Industry and associated groups – sometimes it’s just drinks, sometimes workshops. Write Together – you meet and – just write, that’s all. For some reason, I always get loads done at these. Maybe it’s the subtle presence of people who will notice you skiving…
Of course there is Raindance’s Boozin’ N’ Schmoozin’ which does everything it says on the tine: Networking and alcohol. Generally about a hundred gather in the West end on the 2nd Monday of each month.
Speaking of which…social media will direct a lot of useful material your way, if you use it well: A quick handful of the most useful companies and individuals to follow, by no means exhaustive: Raindance Film Fest, No Film School, Nathalie Lenoir, Brian Koppelman, Scott McMahon.
I’ve got to mention this website which features Paul Willis and his first feature Welcome To The Rabbit Hole made on a £10 budget. On Youtube he takes you through the process of filming this way and guiding you away from the mistakes he made. Nevertheless, the experience gave him impressive knowledge in the low/no budget feature arena. He recommends starting out independently, filming your own screenplay if you can, because of the experience and the CV credit. He previously worked as a researcher for Universal, so has useful insights into the studio system also.