Category: Screenwriting

The Screenwriters Audience

The biggest mistake a writer can make at the outset of writing a screenplay is imagining his or her screenplay turned into a movie and playing at hundreds or thousands of cinemas around the world. To write with this goal in mind is demonstrating a fundamental lack of knowledge and confusion about the roles of a filmmaker and a screenwriter. The screenwriters audience is the primary focus.

A filmmaker makes a film to play to an audience in a cinema or in front of a TV. That is their goal: to elicit emotion from an audience in a cinema.

The goal of a screenwriter is entirely different. A screenwriter’s audience is just one person – a reader. Usually in the film industry, the reader is late fifties/early sixties and over-weight with a tight silk shirt tucked into a pair of expensive slacks, secured by an enormous crocodile skin belt. The reader’s body is adorned with gold rings and bracelets. Very often, this reader has absolutely no training in film, but they are reading your script, and they have the one thing you want – a chequebook. If you succeed in eliciting emotion in this uncouth being, chances are very much better that you will get a check. If you fail to do so, you won’t.

Because the role of the audience is so important, let’s take a closer look at the status of the observer.

The genius of Marshall Macluhan

After I finished high school, I went to art school in Toronto. In order to keep my mother happy, I enrolled at the local university for a series of classes including an English literature class. I dropped out after three classes, because the lecturers were so dry. But the first two nights, I had the most brilliant lectures by the Canadian philosopher, Marshall Macluhan.

Here is Macluhan’s version of the importance of an audience, and the role of the writer:

Suppose that I am a DJ and my job is to attend the radio station and choose music for my show, which airs every morning from 3am – 4am. Hardly a favourable time, but in addition to my paycheck, the other benefit is that I can choose any music I want without any outside interference. Many would consider this an ideal job, albeit with unsociable hours.

The model looks like this:

Screenwriters Audience

Suppose one evening as I am about to leave for work, the radio producer calls and says that there is conclusive proof that this evening during my show, absolutely no one will be listening. Is there any point in my attending to play my favourite records? Surely I can do this in the comfort of my own home.

Let’s look at the model again, only now from the perspective of a writer: and the screenwriters audience

Screenwriters Audience

Screenwriter’s Leap of Faith

The writer writes for the reader. I call this the Screenwriter’s Leap of Faith.

How do you know that each time you start to write a scipt that you will be able to write a good script? Screenwriting is an art form, and you may not be able to hit it every time.

If you do write a good script, how will you know if you get it to the right producer – that reader with a checkbook? And if you get it to the right producer, how do you know if he or she will hire the right director? If you wrote a one page script and gave it to ten different directors, would you not get ten very different films? And how about actors? If you asked a director to direct the same one-page script with ten different actors you would also get ten different films. And what of the editors, and production designers and composers?

You don’t know if the right people will get to work on your script, and you have absolutely no control over this. You might get lucky, write a fabulous script, get it to the top producer who hires the hottest director with a cast of talented newcomers and still find that you cannot get your film onto a single screen at home or around the world. It does happen.

How do you know what the future of your idea for a screenplay holds? From the moment you decide to commit endless hours of time and energy to writing it, you have to admit that you have no idea what the end result is going to be.

The screenwriter’s leap of faith is that amazing belief in yourself and your idea that will carry you through all of the barriers to success – the Biblical quote has never been more applicable.

[box] The goal of a filmmaker is to elicit emotion in an audience. The goal of a screenwriter is to elicit emotion in a reader.[/box]

Misfortune

Let’s go into bummer. There is nothing I can do to teach you about the word misfortune except to try and educate you as much as possible about the savvy needed for the industry, and hope to minimalize the odds against you.

Consider these two questions: Is every hit movie good? Is every good movie a hit?

Every year at the Raindance Film Festival, I find a sweetheart, darling, cute film that I really believe is right for the British audience. The film plays to a packed house, including several distributors. After the screenings of these films, the audience bursts into rapturous applause, and the audience files out talking excitedly about the movie.

Usually in cases like this, I stride up to the Acquisitions Executives that I recognize at the screening and ask them what they think of the film. They know that what I am really asking is whether or not they think it is suitable for a UK release. I am usually told ‘It’s too American for a British audience’ or; I don’t think the British public is ready for something as controversial as that’. Misfortune can and will befall you Learn to recognize it for what it is, and move on. There is nothing you can do about it.

From this can be learned one of the most fundamental rules of screenwriting – learn when to let go. Not everything you do is going to work. Your job as a writer is to inspire the teams of other creatives that are involved in the filmmaking process. Not every idea is going to work. There is nothing you can do about this. Learn when (and how) to let go.

And remember – writers and filmmakers earn the attention of an audience through the skillfull use of violence and sex.

[box] Grant me the strength to change what I can, to accept the things I cannot and the wisdom to know the difference. St Francis of Assisi[/box]

What writers can control

  • The actor’s actions: through description in the screenplay.
  • Dialogue: through the script.
  • Setting: by choosing where the story is told.
  • The story, the story the story.
  • But once the screenplay has left your hands, everything can be changed.

What writers can’t control

  • Casting.
  • Performance.
  • Editing.
  • The vision of the director.
  • Cinematography and the ability of the camerman/woman.
  • Production Design, Set, Wardrobe, Special FX, artistry of the craft people.
  • Score and suitability of the music.
  • Marketing, poster and trailer: the skill of the market makers and publicists.
  • The success of the film: Hey! Who does? It is a crapshoot!

Successful writers write to inspire everybody else, and know when to let go.

Summary

  1. Nobody knows anything. Remember that this book is designed to give you a practical plan; a method for getting your ideas onto paper.
  2. The quickest way into the film industry is with a script – a hot script
  3. Never forget the writer’s role – to inspire everyone else, then let go.
  4. You are an intuitive storyteller. Let nothing inhibit you.

Now, get that idea out of your head and onto paper. If you need some help and advice for your writing, check out the screenwriting classes in Raindance Toronto, London and Los Angeles

Filed under: Filmmaking, Screenwriting

Digital Rules! How Screenwriting Has Changed

Great storytelling continues to influences our lives. Since childhood, we were told amazing stories that had little roots in reality and more in fantasy and while we may have grown up, our love for storytelling remains the same. Due to this, people crave a compelling storytelling format from modern screenwriters when it comes to TV series. 

The modern screenwriters craft narratives that are laced with the right amount of suspense and thrill element to keep the audience on the edge. A little balance achieved by amalgamating complex characters with ordinary settings or the other way around is what TV screenwriters are good at! However, this trend is slowly losing its focus when it comes to traditional Hollywood.  

Screenwriting and Traditional TV

Avoiding the mentioning of screenwriters during the acceptance speeches is becoming a trend. While screenwriters are still contributing towards the making of modern films, they are not receiving the fair share of recognition they once received.  

Movies in its traditional form are losing touch with the screenwriting process, with many directors or cast members taking on the role of producing a story. That is the case with top-performing movies such as Interstellar and Guardians of the Galaxy since their directors did the writing job. Although these movies proved themselves to be a visual treat they did an underwhelming job in creating a solid narrative. Of course, you do not expect a raccoon to speak eloquently in space or want an astronaut to focus more on dialogues than action. 

The current generation’s demand to have fast-paced action movies is making the art of screenwriting obsolete.

Enter Netflix, Amazon, and many other famous online streaming services! 

Digital Transformations Pushing the Boundaries 

While movie watchers are content with thrillers or action-packed superhero flicks, their appetite to have good storytelling mode with the right amount of suspense, well-developed characters, and strong background is slowly growing when it comes to TV shows.

Previously, screenwriters were told to keep the stories simple and their characters uncomplicated since the audience would not be able to catch up. However, with new digital transformations in ways of how we consume TV, screenwriters are now making their stories complex and their characters multifaceted to satisfy their audience. 

This sudden change is due to the mass consumption of TV and also because of the advent of online streaming services. Now, the people are willing to catch up, i.e. if they watch certain parts of any serial and are curious about the back story, they will not only watch the previous episode but will also watch the entire previous seasons to get an understanding of what is happening. 

Thanks to the advent of online streaming, viewers can do so without having to sit through advertisements. But while online streaming has made TV viewing easier than the traditional mediums, the unrelenting competition and the rise of various other streaming services will make it hard to view shows in economical ways. This is due to the fact that one streaming service would try to trump others by offering exclusive or premium access to high paying members and so on. 

This type of scenario is a matter of concern for the viewers but for the screenwriters, this presents a massive opportunity in a time where their roles are being eliminated from the film industry. In a world that is marred with remakes and live-action Disney movies, more and more individuals are demanding original content; one that has everything in balance to create a gripping narrative. 

Online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are not only investing in original content but they are also buying out original series from TV broadcasters. Take the example of Black Mirror, it started on the British telly and made its way to Netflix when it started to show real potential. The point is, the need to have original content has opened doors for screenwriters or ordinary writers that have a passion and intellect to create original pieces. Subjects that were once considered boring, out-of-touch of reality, or controversial are being turned into gripping series thanks to the number of opportunities that the writers are getting at this stage. 

This brings with it a new type of storytelling freedom where the writers do not have to create content a certain way or edit their content according to the network producers to please them. On the other hand, it also provides amateurs or professional writers with a chance to pour out their hearts and create masterpieces that will be equally appreciated by everyone. 

Of course, you must be thinking that this kind of freedom may turn the TV into a nightmare that is crowded with cheaply produced content with weak plot lines. Although, there are various platforms where one can produce, edit, and upload original content, be assured that only the top-class content will make it to the streaming networks. On the flip side, amateurs can hire unknowns to play out their stories and upload the content to YouTube or Vimeo. If it is good, then Netflix or any other streaming service will buy it and if it fails to impress the streaming giants, then at least you can have a small fan base that relates to your content.  

Where Hollywood is relying on directors to captivate the audience through their unique storytelling skills, the easy availability of upload mediums or streaming giants has brought back the creative control to the person that matters, i.e. the screenwriter! 

Final thoughts 

Live streaming, YouTube, and streaming networks; all of them have made it possible for the screenwriters to narrate a story that depends less on visual elements and more on characters and story development. While Hollywood may be depending less and less on screenwriters, the changes in the way we consume TV entertainment has provided this dwindling industry with a chance to reestablish themselves. Not only this, but the streaming networks and our needs for original yet interesting content are opening doors for amateurs and professionals alike to deliver content the way consumers like it. 

They do not say content is king for no reason at all! Nothing can beat the intricate stories constructed on a fast-paced narrative created by screenwriters or just writers in general. If you can get a little more creative, you can use the same tools to sponsor goods or promote your services/products without relying on traditional digital marketing services. The opportunities are endless; it only depends on how well you utilise every single one.

Filed under: Screenwriting

The secret to comedy is…

People come up to me all the time and ask “David – your seminars on comedy are so incredibly wonderful, why don’t you do them all the time?” in my dreams. 

The answer is simple: money. 

Doing some simple calculations, I’ve determined that I can easily become rich within my wildest dreams by simply doing just 12,000 more seminars, or one seminar with 12,001 students. I decided on doing just the one but then discovered that the O is booked for November 16th. So I’ve chosen an alternative strategy: one seminar a year for 12,000 years. 

This year’s theme is “How Comedy Works”, which is similar to my other seminars in the sense that they’re identical. My ironclad guarantee is similar as well: I, David Misch, solemnly pledge that everyone will come away from this seminar with no usable skills. 

Because what I talk about isn’t screenwriting or directing or acting, but comedy itself. Learning about the fundamental principles of comedy will help you do it (and understand and appreciate it) better, especially when complemented by a myriad of video clips illustrating how comedy works outside the lab. So, actually, forget that stuff about no usable skills. 

The secret to comedy is – whoa, wait a minute, I almost told you for free. Really, I was this close. (I’m holding two fingers really close together.) 

I’ll give this much away: comedy uses the principles of tension and resolution, misdirection, pattern recognition and surprise. Of course, those are the principles of every art form. But the specifics of comedy are unique, and the precision it requires is – at least to non-professionals – often unrecognised. 

In most dramas, changing a few words won’t have a huge effect. But in comedy, changing a word, even a syllable, can mean the difference between laughter and reactions ranging from hostile silence to physical violence. (Yes, I once was a standup.) 

We all know you don’t get anywhere by slavishly following rules, but you also don’t get anywhere by ignoring them. The idea is to learn the rules, master them… then break them, or at least defy them by getting your laughs in unusual ways.

There are only two ways to learn the mechanics of comedy: lots of work, or getting told. The Rule of 3 didn’t spring fully formed from a nutty Neanderthal’s test beaker (bet you didn’t know Neanderthals had lab equipment) but from the success and failure of a thousand thousand writers and stand ups and drunk uncles at family dinners. Every comedy person rediscovers these rules; this seminar is about giving you a leg up.

The principles apply to acting, directing, and writing, full-length features, sketches, one-liners, foreign policy, and real estate investment. (Note: Two of those are a lie.) They all drink from the same comedy trough (a poetic albeit unappetising metaphor) in that all human beings laugh, in any situation, for the same basic reasons. 

Discovering those reasons is the key to making them laugh at what you do. And for that, you might also consider attending my next 11,999 seminars. 

Meanwhile, listen to what the following satisfied and/or paid-off customers have to say… “It takes a serious mind to analyse comedy. It takes a funny mind to appreciate it. David Misch is of two minds.” – Jason Alexander 

“A sell-out crowd, lots of laughing and learning about why and how comedy works; both grad students and faculty got a lot from the evening.” – Alan Kingsberg, Columbia University 

“David Misch knows funny, teaches funny, is funny. His insightful presentation had our students alternately rapt and in stitches. Thank goodness he brought peroxide.” – Jon Stahl; Chair, Dept. of Cinema & Television Arts, Cal. State Northridge 

“Anyone who can engage and hold the attention of my jaded Advanced Screenwriting class knows whereof he speaks. David did so for over two hours and left them wanting more.” – Ron Osborn, Art Center College of Design 

“David gives you mirth and joy and startling insights.” – Hal Ackerman; School of Theater, Film & Television, UCLA 

If you’ve read this far, you’re either fascinated by the topic or desperate for things to read; for the sake of my self-esteem, I’m gonna assume the former. If that’s the case, now’s your chance to sign up for “The Art and Craft of Comedy”,10 AM – 6 PM on Saturday 16th November at the Raindance Film Festival in London . 

If you come, be sure to introduce yourself after the seminar, and prepare for a warm yet slightly vacant handshake from me, given that I’m 69 and will have been standing for 8 hours. In fact, now that I think of it, bring oxygen. 

Filed under: Filmmaking, Screenwriting

How technology is changing the Craft of Screenwriting

Screenwriting, which is commonly known as scriptwriting, is the art and craft of writing scripts. It is different from other forms of writing as it targets the media launching projects, such as feature films, video games, documentaries, and different television productions. The modern definition includes the usage of technological tools, such as apps and technical equipment, to enhance the screenwriting process.  

Screenwriting- The Basics

It is not wrong to say that screenwriters are the most influential part of the overall production team. As I was watching a TV series on my contour TV, I realised that most of the viewers (including me) are just concerned with the final output of a production, often neglecting how much effort went into giving it the final look that we enjoy so much. 

It is not easy to write a good story. Screenwriters do the job of researching the story, developing a plot, writing the dialogues for the characters, and the way they deliver it. They also have to mention the required format, how and where the scenes must be executed, and character specifications. 

Screenwriters come up with original ideas and pitch them to the producers, which are then taken in as an option. Some agents’ commissions different scripts to producers, too. Sometimes, screenwriters rewrite scripts on existing literary works, such as a novel, a play, or a book. Remaking old movie scripts is also a popular trend these days.

Technology- the Definition

Technology is the science of craft. It is the total number of techniques, methods, skills, and processes used in the making of goods, or the providence of services. It is also defined as a method of using scientific advancements, such as machines or systems, to obtain a certain goal. We can also modify technology to obtain certain required results in a specific project. 

Screenwriting and Technology- Where do these Two Merge

So, the art and craft of screenwriting and the added technology give rise to a question: Where do these two merge? The past saw no such amalgamation, except the essential technical side of developing and processing required in the media industry. But the present is witnessing many such group ventures, and the result is a very refined cinematic and visual experience. 

Let’s discuss what these two can offer when together! And what more can we expect from a combined future of technology and screenwriting?

Screenplays that Talk!

As we have discussed before, screenwriting software has gone through the process of evolving over the past few years. But with technology pitching in, there is much more which we can expect to see in the coming future. We are amazed by the technology advancement embedded in the scripts, and there are hints for the future too. 

An example of it is the web-series, Stranger Things. The creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, set the time of the series in the 1980s era. An era of nostalgia speaks through the entire series, as the viewer is transmitted to the world of movies created by Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, and the imaginary world of the king of horror, Stephen King. Few have the eye to appreciate the technology used by the Duffers to incorporate the idea of 1980s scenery into a millennial script production. The result is mesmerising. 

Although these visual ideas were already a part of the main document, it was evident that it had been created with the ongoing technology of coding and software application. The screenplays were seemingly breathing, living, and very much relatable. Also, with the help of technology, they incorporated the conceptual artwork, photos, visual aids, etc. that accompanied the screenplays to their final PDF format.  

Screenwriters and Coders- Working Together

The worldwide video game industry generated a revenue of $99.6 billion (Source: Global Games Market report, 2016). 

The gaming industry is blooming without a doubt and is broadening its horizons to reach Hollywood writers and collaborate in major projects. The time is not far away when we would be able to see a total collaboration, where both the parties are paid equally! Video game writing requires unique skills. Video games now have more depth and character as compared to the time when screenwriting wasn’t an integral part of the process. If the technological demands of one domain bring it closer to another, it is surely going to be worth playing!

If you have ever visited Pixar or any similar game generating studios, you must have an idea that generating a picturesque landscape is just a matter of a single click now. Imagine a time with coders and screenwriters combining their imaginations to create magical worlds for all to enjoy. And then allow us to inhibit those worlds with the help of our smartphones or tools of Virtual Reality. 

Screenwriting Contracts- Going Digital

Till 1970, screenwriters and actors had to sign contracts with specific studios for multiple projects. Those projects kept them committed to a single place of work, for years at a time. Especially the screenwriters, they were studio salaried employees who worked for whatever projects were assigned to them in any given fiscal year. 

When the concept of a spec script- screenplays written in consideration of future productions- came into being in the early 70s, the contractual positions slowly diminished.

Now, most of the screenwriters are signed in to work on individual projects or can freelance, to different studios and production houses. Hollywood is such a big place, and the competition is too much, that screenwriters who are pitching in to write free of cost are frustrating people who are trying to earn through screenwriting. The system of payment is confusing screenwriters as far as their career choices are concerned.  

With the central payment and recruitment systems going digital, the growth rate of screenwriters within the industry can see a rise. Or, the companies and production houses could go back to the 70s model, and offer digital contracts to screenwriters. Wouldn’t it offer a safer and brighter screenwriting future? I’m signing off to enjoy a movie evening with my Spectrum TV Select. What are your plans? Do share in the comments!

Filed under: Screenwriting

4 Tips for Writing for a Low Budget Film

Writing for a low budget film doesn’t mean you need to limit your creativity. There are many tricks you can use in order to make the most out of the story you have in mind with a little amount of money.

Yes, Virginia is a 12 minute short film I wrote and directed which deals with themes of hope, grief and problematic love. The film is not afraid to explore the grey areas between love, lies and deceit, and will hopefully be a film viewers will discuss even after they leave the cinema.

Whilst writing the film I learnt a few things about writing for a low budget, including the following four handy tips:

Set Up Your World’s Rules

First things first, it’s time to decide where your film is set. Is it set in the ‘real world’, is it a fantasy, is it a period drama? You need to figure out what the world your film is set in is, and what the rules are. Yes, Virginia is set in a world just like ours, except the main character Virginia can grant people’s wishes. This obviously isn’t your everyday occurrence but I wanted this to be accepted as normal in this setting. The rules are simple: if Virginia hears the words ‘I wish…’ she automatically grants that person’s wish, everybody only gets one wish, and it’s impossible to undo a wish.

Once you’ve decided the rules of your own universe, you can begin to craft the characters that inhabit it.

Focus on the Characters

A story is only ever as good as the characters that inhabit it. To create a snappy narrative short film you need to craft characters that the audience is going to identify with. It’s possible to create a completely nonsensical world and make it believable by creating grounded characters with plausible intentions. If you give the character a clear goal this helps the audience (as well as the actor) to track their progress across the film’s length. A key part of a plot is the main conflict. You can make the main conflict come from the characters themselves by giving them conflicting goals and actions.

You can show what kind of characters they are through the clothes they wear as well. I wanted Virginia to be dressed in smart dresses and also bought her a necklace to wear – a bird in a cage, hinting at the themes of the film to eagle-eyed viewers. Nick is dressed in a shirt and trousers, to give the impression that he is the ‘every-man’ archetype.

Photography by Bertie Watson

Limit the Amount of Locations

In order to keep to a shoe string budget it’s important to limit the amount of locations you use. Having multiple locations quickly increases your budget because of the cost of renting, travel to the location and the increased price of filming over multiple days. Once you’ve decided where your film is set, start contacting friends or family members to see if they know of anywhere you can film it on the cheap or even for free, then if this isn’t possible start looking further afield.

With Yes, Virginia we had two key locations, a TV Studio, for Virginia’s television debut and her dining room, for her and her partner Nick’s anniversary dinner. We set up a simple green screen for the television scene, mimicking American talk shows, and we shot it in one evening. The dining room scene proved tricky to secure a location for, nobody in London appears to have such a luxury! We finally found a location through posting on Facebook groups and trawling through websites like JJ Media which specialises in film locations.

Show Don’t Tell

When I first started writing the script it was all set in the one location and a lot of the dialogue got bogged down in the rules of Virginia’s wish giving gift. This gave me the idea of the opening scene, Virginia on live television granting a wish to a blind woman. By doing this I was able to show the audience that her gift was in fact real and has made a difference to other people’s lives, something that becomes very important later in the film.

In the first draft of your script allow yourself to get lost in the dialogue and write as much as you want. Then later when you come back to it, strip the dialogue back to the bare essentials by deciding what needs to be said, and what you can show instead.

Fade Out

Hopefully these four tips will help you when writing for a low budget film, as it helped me when I was making Yes, Virginia. You can find out more about my film on our social media or our crowdfunding campaign, that we are currently running to raise festival submission fees.

Filed under: Filmmaking, Screenwriting

Story Selling by Heather Hale – Book Review

Introduction

Anyone can write a story, but not everyone can sell one. Enter Heather Hale, an accomplished director, screenwriter and producer. If anyone knows how to get a story sold, it’s her. Luckily for late night writers and budding screenwriters Hale is giving you her golden compass to success in the form of her new book Story Selling. She made her authorial debut in 2017 with How to Work The Film and TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators, which gives much needed industry advice to those looking to get into the world of film and TV. Her illustrious career includes two successful feature films The Courage to Love (2000) and Absolute Killers (2011) and when she isn’t producing industry successes she is uploading to her blog, offering a wealth of advice to people starting out in the industry. 

 A Story Worth Selling 

Starting from the ground up, the book reiterates how important it is to have a good screenplay, in order to be able to sell it. Encouraging writers to build a backbone to their work and create something solid enough to be able to withstand the cut throat environment of Hollywood. One of the best ways that Hale does this is including activities to complete as you move through the book, such as encouraging writers to create a comp list, build a convincing log line and writing characters that have substance. One of the best pieces of advice is her catchphrase “Kill Your Darling Cliches”. Although originally used to encourage writers to create an original log line, the phrase is a good way to encompass how Hale encourages the reader to move away from what has been done before and create something that will stand out. Though this is not a “how to write a good screenplay” book, Hale goes in depth about what your screenplay needs to be proficient – and most importantly why. So that in that nerve wracking or life changing pitch you won’t be caught out – instead you’ll have something solid, worth selling. Much of the book is dedicated to marketing a screenplay, teaching you common practises of the industry and how to use everyday tools such as IMDb to your own savvy advantage. 

From Industry Jargon to Pitch Perfect 

The advice in this book is relevant for writers in any stage of their career, whether you’re starting off and going it alone, have secured an agent or are already affiliated with a production company.  This doesn’t mean however that Hale scrimps on teaching the reader all the relevant industry jargon. Important terms are organised and made prominent in highlighted boxes, along with a handy definition and how they’re relevant to every chapter in the book. If you didn’t already know what a spec, high concept, macguffin or tagline is, then you will when you’ve finished reading.  Alongside these are handy do’s and don’ts, as someone who is well versed in the film industry, Hale offloads buckets of advice on what to do in every situation you might find yourself in when selling your screenplay. She even includes guidance for emails, so you can put your best foot forward when communicating with companies and high profile people. It’s also worth noting that Story Selling doesn’t pen itself into screenplays for narrative feature films, or even shorts for that matter. The book goes in depth with writing for TV, detailing formats for game shows, reality TV and even children’s programming so the advice can suit any kind of writer. If all this wasn’t enough, the book directs you to Hale’s online resources in certain chapters to provide more information and guidance where you might need it. 

Final Thoughts 

Story Selling is the ultimate how to guide to not only creating great screenplays, but making a pretty penny from them too. Heather Hale’s writing style is conversational and witty, which makes the sheer amount of information on offer easy to swallow. Bitesize paragraphs break up chapters and the use of online screenshots and highlighted text boxes make it easy to locate figures and definitions. It’s also a book that asks as much from you as you do from it, encouraging budding screenwriters to create practical documents such as great pitches to practising how to communicate with industry professionals. This is one of the reasons why Hale’s book begins as screenwriting  for dummies, but quickly graduates to getting down to business. Lending you all the industry know how so you can arrive at the conclusion of this book fully prepared to take on the scary (but exciting!) world of Story Selling. You can get the book here from Amazon! 

Filed under: Book Review, ScreenwritingTagged with: , , , ,

5 Classic Movie Scripts Every Screenwriter Should Read

Want to be a good screenwriter, but do not know where to start? We will tell you how to take the first steps towards your dream. Be attentive and keep the tips, they will definitely come in handy!

What Is a Movie Script and What Do You Need to Know About It?

The script of the film is a kind of skeleton, based on which stunning pictures and the greatest works of cinematography are created. Relatively speaking, the script is all information that will be captured in the future and transferred to the screens. This is a step-by-step “instruction” that includes all the dialogues, the places where the action takes place, all the characters involved, and a brief description of their emotions. Creating a movie without a script is impossible.

Why Is It So Important to Know and Read the Works of Famous Authors?

Creativity is part of the experience of predecessors, your own insanity, as well as the ability to see what the majority does not see. With this recipe, real talent is born and developed. But we have to remember that such talent needs constant boosting and nourishing. The study of literature, famous cultural figures, as well as their works, give an idea of how to apply your own talent in the best way. That is why the first and only right step for a person who wants to take a path in the field of screenwriting mastery and become a successful and sought-after screenwriter, is reading scripts that influenced the world cinema industry in one or another way.

Every well-known screenwriter has found their own way of knowing all aspects and possibilities of screenwriting. Each of them has learned from the masters of the past. And you have to follow that path too.

It may seem to you that this is like plagiarism. However, we must immediately clarify that this is not so. Studying existing scenarios helps the novice screenwriter understand how to put theory into practice. Because you can be as good as you want in theory, but you need to know how to put such theoretical knowledge into practice.

Here are the benefits that you can get by reading scripts:

  • A newcomer can see what a real script should look like. Not how it is presented as a template in the theoretical literature, but what text is actually taken as the basis for filming.
  • Get inspired from various techniques of writing. Each scriptwriter invests in the script skills that they have developed over the years. Reading the scripts of different authors, the novice writer discovers the world of new and old techniques that were used to write. Having a wealth of examples of creative techniques, it is much easier to build your own.

Reading Literature is the Way to Great Achievements

It is important to remember that in addition to screenwriting, you must not forget to read additional literature that will help to deal with the techniques of writing.

For example, we recommend reading this article which briefly describes how to expand an idea into a ready-made script, as well as steps that will help develop creative thinking. Save the recommendations in order not to lose them.

Also, as recommended The New York Times, read the work of the author and marvellous screenwriter Syd Field, “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting”. In this book, each reader will be able to find step-by-step instructions for writing their own creation. The author tells and most importantly, proves that everyone can learn everything. It is only important to strive to achieve the goal. Syd Field will guide you through the whole journey, from the very inception of the idea to the ready and valid scenario.

His works have been translated into many languages. However, if you were unable to find it in the language you need, then you can always contact The Word Point for help. Here you can translate absolutely any kind of document, ranging from scenarios, and ending with any financial papers.

5 Movie Scripts that Anyone Who Wants to Take Place in the Niche of Famous Screenwriters Should Read

 

The great creation of the famous Charlie Kaufman hardly left any viewer indifferent. The film considers such a thing as love. What is it? How do we understand, that the rapid heartbeat is exactly the feeling that is called “love”? Is it possible to deliberately cross out all the feelings from the soul and where can that lead to?

  • Winner of the British Academy Award in 2005 for Best Original Screenplay;
  • Golden Globe nominee in the Best Screenplay category, 2005;
  • Winner of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, 2005.

 

How to use something that wasn’t intended to be public? Who is pleased to recognise their own desires in a character when they are completely different from generally accepted norms? David Lynch skilfully wields human “flaws”, as well as features of the psyche.

  • Nomination for Golden Globe Awards for Best Screenplay, 1987;
  • Nomination for Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay, 1987.

 

This is a good example of where the attempts to live as you want can lead. The script describes understandable, but at the same time mysterious characters, that are not so easy to reveal. Looks like reality, isn’t it?

  • Winner of the Golden Globe Award for Best Script, 2000;
  • Winner of the Oscar award for best screenplay, 2000.

 

This is a story that deserves the attention of everyone. It tells how strong the power of a word is, as well as a vivid example of how words should be supported by deeds.

  • Winner of an Oscar winner award for Best Adapted Script, 1963.

 

This is difficult-to-perceive and emotional story based on cruelty and love. This scenario is an excellent reference to how the encirclement can affect the person and deprive the right to choose even own destiny.

  • Winner of the Golden Globe Award for Best Script, 1973;
  • Winner of the Academy Award for Best Adapted Script, 1973.

Summarising

Remember that it is always difficult to start something new. The first steps are not easy. However, if you have a goal, then you need to make enough effort and continue to go towards it, despite the difficulties and obstacles. Your efforts will not be ignored.

Filed under: Filmmaking Career, ScreenwritingTagged with: , , , ,

Remember You’re Writing A Selling Script

Maybe you’ve heard the saying that a script is just a blueprint. If so, forget it!  The first goal of your script is to be a great reading experience.

Later there will be a production script annotated by the director and others involved in planning the actual production once your script has sold. That’s the blueprint.

There will never be a production script until and unless there was a great selling script–the version read by agents, script editors, producers and others you want have get excited about your work.

With that “blueprint” comment in mind, many screenwriters are afraid to write descriptions of the action and of the characters in a vivid way. Big mistake!

Chekhov’s advice

The great playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov gave this advice to a writer: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

The way to make a character or a setting or an action come alive in the imagination of the reader is to provide specific details. Compare these two descriptions:

Howard is a so fat he finds it difficult to walk.

Howard wheezes with the effort of carrying his weight. Every ten steps he has stop and lean against the nearest wall.

Not only is the second description more specific, it brings in another sense–the sound of wheezing. The more you can bring in not only what things look like but also their smell, their feel, their taste, the more real they become to the reader.

Often the best specific to mention is one that is unexpected. For instance, it might be that despite his bulk Howard has dainty feet.

Later the director and the actor playing Howard may decide not to have him stop every ten steps

Different details will have different effects in terms of how the reader perceives the character or the setting. For example, if we want the reader to feel some sympathy for Howard, we might show him enduring the embarrassment of having to buy shoes in the children’s department.

One warning: don’t overdo it. Adjectives are especially dangerous! One usually is enough. “Grimy fingernails” is fine; “Grimy, misshapen, yellowed, gnawed fingernails” is too much.

Adverbs can be even worse–generally it’s better to describe the action rather than characterise it. For instance, instead of “He eats the donut greedily,” you might write, “He stuffs the entire donut into his mouth so fast that jam squirts out of his mouth.”

Checking to make sure that you have been specific in your descriptions is one of the key things to do when you go over your first draft. If you want to see how it’s done, read some of Chekhov’s short stories. They constitute a great master class.

And remember: nobody enjoys reading a blueprint.

Find out about The Script Coach Series with Jurgen Wolff 

Filed under: ScreenwritingTagged with: , , ,

The Three C’s of Plot (and how they help you get through Act II)

There are many ways of constructing a plot. One I find useful is to consider what I call the three C’s:

Conflict

Choice

Consequence

You can use these to develop your main plot and they are equally useful in constructing the smaller components of your story–the individual scenes. This is especially true in helping you construct the hardest part of any story, the middle or Act II.

The Big Picture

You can use the three C’s to come up with a log line, which also is the spine of your story. For example:

A young man obsessed with becoming a great drummer finds himself tested to the limit by a brilliant but abusive teacher. (“Whiplash”)

The three C’s don’t always occur in the same order. In this instance, it’s the young man’s choice (to become a great drummer) that leads to the conflict (the harsh demands of the teacher) that leads to the consequence (being tested to the limit).

This order is typical of stories in which the protagonist sets out to achieve some kind of goal. However, there are many stories in which the protagonist initially is reactive rather than active. For instance:

A young girl finds herself trapped in a strange  and threatening alternate reality with three companions. The four journey to see a wizard who can give each of them what they most want–in her case, a way to get home. (“The Wizard of Oz”)

Dorothy doesn’t choose to go to Oz (at least not consciously), and her story begins with conflict when she finds herself there, threatened by the Wicked Witch. Her choice is to join her three odd companions on a search for the wizard who can help them get what they want. The consequence is the adventure they experience, and her realization that there’s no place like home.

The parts of the whole

Throughout a movie, the protagonist continues to make choices, whether voluntarily or because she is forced to, and these choices have consequences which lead to further conflict.

A scene can start with either a conflict or a choice that leads to one.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a thriller in which your protagonist’s identity has been stolen. Fearful that this is leading to her being framed for a murder, she takes action to discover who is responsible.

She finds a clue that the woman impersonating her is going to be at a certain restaurant for dinner. She decides to confront her (the choice). At the restaurant, she challenges the woman (conflict). Unfortunately, the bad guys sent a ringer, and the protagonist is arrested for assault (consequence).

That leads to a new conflict, between her and the system. She has to make a new choice: insist on what seems like a crazy story, and risk being sent to a psychiatric hospital, or play along and accept the blame for something she didn’t do.

Whichever choice she makes will have further consequences that lead to more conflict, until there is some kind of final showdown.

Building the strongest scene and story

In each scene we can ask what choices the protagonist has, and which one leads to the most interesting story development. Obviously, the choice has to be consistent with the character you have created, and the character and his or her choices are influenced by the genre as well as the plot.

In action stories, we tend to give the character very few options; in each new development he finds himself faced with some seemingly impossible task he must perform in order to avoid disaster. Think James Bond.

In more sophisticated stories, there are several viable options and which one the protagonist chooses helps us to understand him better and perhaps consider what we would do in his place. In that version, James Bond might stop to consider whether the outcome of the violent tasks being demanded of him are worth the sacrifice of his humanity. Confronted with a particularly vulnerable beautiful woman, he might opt not to sleep with her just to get the information he needs.

How this helps you with the middle of your story

The middle is where many stories weaken. They cease to grow and we feel like the story has been padded. This happens even though there is all kind of conflict and action.

The reason is that the protagonist has stopped making new choices. The story has set up the basic conflict, and if the escalation of the conflict is just mechanical, the story will stall in terms of its emotional impact.

To see how this works, let’s go back to the woman whose identity has been stolen. In Act II they take all the money in her bank account, then they make it look like she’s been embezzling money at work so she loses her job, then they set up a situation in which she’s arrested for assault.

Those are all escalations, but if they are only the result of the actions of the people who are using her, they will not be as powerful as if they are at least in part the result of new choices she makes. For example, maybe she decides, ‘If I’m going to be convicted for embezzling money whether or not I’ve done it, I might as well do it.” Shortly after she’s been fired, and with her bank account already cleaned out, she takes some of the company’s money in order to be able to fight back against the people setting her up. She’s made a moral choice that feels like an emotional escalation.

Even more dramatically, if she’s going through a divorce and a custody battle, she might decide that in light of what’s happening to her, her child would be safer with her ex-husband; although it tears her up, she drops her quest for custody. (Hmm, do we think the ex-husband might be in on all this?)

In short, the middle of your story will grow in intensity if the escalation operates on several levels, rather than just the degree of physical threat to your protagonist.

Some of the big action movies that lack this try to cover for it with bigger explosions and more impressive effects, but for audiences with an attention span longer than 30 seconds, this ploy can work for only so long.

Whether you use the three C’s right from the start, or to help you strengthen your story once you’ve bashed out a first draft, giving thought to choices, conflicts, and consequences canhelp you write a more powerful screenplay.

Jurgen Wolff’s Script Coach returns to Raindance.

Filed under: ScreenwritingTagged with: , , ,

Don’t Dismiss Your Crazy Ideas

I got an email the other day from an aspiring screenwriter who had an idea for an unusual structure for her screenplay. She asked whether I thought it would be safer to stick to the traditional three-act structure and “maybe just drop in a few more unusual elements.”

Of course it’s hard to give advice on a specific project when you don’t know the story or the details of the alternative structure, but in general I agree with this advice from painter Courtney Jordan about mixed media artwork:

“Mixed media artists can’t be faint of heart. You have to be brave to try mixed media techniques that you’ve never tried before, but I’ve discovered that you won’t get anywhere–and you kind of feel let down–if you don’t push it enough to show you are actually mixing media.”

I think the same is true for screenwriters. If you have an unconventional way to tell your story–and you’re using it because it’s the best way, not just to be different for the sake of it–go for it.

Trying to stick to the rules and be just a little unconventional probably will make your novel or script just as muddy and unconvincing as a mixed media artwork by an artist who lacked the confidence to go all the way.

In the world of screenwriting, scripts that stand out often are not the first ones to be bought, but they capture the attention of those who read them. Those readers know they’re dealing with a writer who has the courage to venture out of the safe territory. Ironically, they may then hire you to write something more conventional, but at least you’ll have your foot in the door.

WANT MORE IDEAS? GET INTO FLOW

A lot has been written in the past few years about the state of “flow,” in which whatever you’re doing seems to come to you effortlessly. I had an experience with this recently, on a ten-hour plane trip to the US. Let’s see whether that experience can help you create your own flow.

THE CONDITIONS FOR FLOW

The conditions seem to be:

  • being away from your usual workspace – in this case, an airplane
  • being in a place with low external stimulus – this was an overnight flight, the cabin was dark, and most people were sleeping. When we got on the plane I thought there might be a LOT of external stimulus, since the middle row opposite was occupied by two dads, a little girl, and two very young babies. The little girl was well-behaved and, amazingly, the infants didn’t cry even once.
  • having few interruptions – there were two meal services, one of which I skipped, the rest of the time the flight attendants were rarely seen.
  • not stopping to re-read or critique the material

That’s not to say that flow happens every time those conditions are met. I’ve made that flight many times, and have been super productive on only one out of five or six.

CAN WE CREATE THE CONDITIONS?

How to create such conditions without getting on an airplane? Some writers do it by going to a hotel for a few days or weeks, not turning on the TV, not hooking up to the wi-fi, and taking at least some of their meals via room service. That’s a fairly drastic approach, though (as well as expensive).

Working in a cafe, ideally without internet access, can be a mini-version of that, although here in the centre of London it’s hard to find one that doesn’t have the distraction of people-watching and the obligation to move on after you’ve had a couple of cups of coffee. Maybe I just need to look harder for an unpopular place.

Getting on a train (obviously not during peak times) for a couple of hours might do it, although given the price of train travel it could be an expensive option.

If you want more ideas to flow, consider creating the conditions above and notice what works best for you.

Find out about The Script Coach Series Jurgen Wolff 

Filed under: Screenwriting