Posts Tagged ‘screenplay’

Common Questions When Writing A Screenplay

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

So I did the outline as per the post – practicing what I preach of course – and it technically took a month, but also took only a day if not less when going by time.  Over the past month I had an hour here and an hour there at best, and so this added into the time I took to do an outline.  Overall, I spent about 10-12 hours on it total, which I think is a decent day’s worth if you can pull it off.

I’m happy with the story, its a light hearted comedy, so quite flexible too and probably comes in at a relatively short 90 minutes.  Originally I wanted to use a more dramatic and semi-personal idea, but it got the best of me and added negative vibes to an already stressful schedule.  So I reverted to comedy to relieve me in this case.

I ended up with just about 80 scenes laid out in an Excel Spreadsheet, with the columns of :

– Scene Number (which explains itself, though for some continuous sequences I would do 1a, 1b, etc)

– Outline (whats the scene doing, whos’ what, etc)

– Location (slugline in some ways, INT, EXT, that sort of thing)

– Main characters (who’s this scene focusing on)

– Estimated duration (when acted out in my head at least, rounded to the nearest 10 or 15 seconds, many scenes would be 30 to 90 seconds for instance, while faster sequences 15)

– Notes (more for me to notate in the scene if relevant)

So now is the next part.  How does this transition into a full length screenplay?  Will it be something I can easily churn out pages from and not worry about the outline, because I have already connected the loose ends?  Any guesses on how long it could take?  Hopefully equal to or less than this stage.

And I made sure it answered the common questions for writing a screenplay… such as:

– Do you characters have a reason to be there?

– Does each scene / line have meaning or relevance to moving the story?  Hmm, maybe not “meaning” if its a comedy, but you get the idea.

– Is there the right level of background and transition (not every scene has to lead through and onto the next for instance)?

– Did you come up with an idea for storyline (including the end) before you started writing it?

– Would you watch it?

Anyway, a bit of an interim post, but figured I’d document how its progressing, whether anyone is listening or not.  Hopefully will have an update soon.


How To Write A Screenplay in One Day

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

So, one thing I’ve been working on with the three screenplays currently in progress is efficiency. Outlining, writing when you are in a good flow, a good state of mind is key. Some days I am full of ideas and hooks that come from every direction. Some days I am useless. However what used to happen is when I was on the wave of creativitiy, I’d start writing, and a few scenes and pages later, it might fade or the time may have passed and I’ve got to leave/go/sleep/work/eat/acknowledge others. And while I’d be happy that I fit in a couple of hours and got some ideas down, I wish I could get more value for that.

I’ve already gone on about how outlining a screenplay is so important and the element of modern convenience is useful too, in an age and time where we seem to have a lot of the former but none of the latter. As I am still a long way away from developing an iOS app for screenwriting, let alone testing out the competition – I am still concentrating on what I’d want it to do in the first place. And I found an odd candidate for doing this. Microsoft Excel! I hate Excel, as what it stands for is something that eats up a fair bit of my work day, but at the same time, I see myself use it in more and more non-work scenarios.

The other day I had a couple hours to spare. And this was rare. So I knew I needed to make the most of it. One of my recent screenplay ideas was scribbled on a piece of paper. This is the first tip on how to write a screenplay in one day HAVE AN IDEA IN THE FIRST PLACE. So anyone expecting some magical trick here is out of luck. You need to know what you’re going to write about, how it will start, what sort of story it is, and how it will end.

But lets say you have an idea and you know how it will flow, how it will start, end and some main character elements. Open MS Excel. Create a spreadsheet with the following columns in the first row. Scene number, Outline, Location, Characters, Estimated Time, Notes, Hook Relation. Don’t worry, this isn’t advanced Excel 101, just some basic ways you can use it to your advantage.

So in this chart, we show how writing is a business and an art.

The “scene number” explains itself, the first one is 1, and so on. Outline is basically a summary of what the scene is, what’s the message, who’s in, and maybe a snippet of dialogue or how the vibe of that scene is overall. Then for Location we are looking at the traditional Location line, such as “EXT. PARK – NIGHT” for a outdoor scene in the park at night time.

“Characters” – this is where you list the main characters of the scene, so you can track who is involved where. Estimated time is a column formatted as a number where you indicate how many seconds you think the scene might take if you imagine it. No need to be too specific, think 15 for quick transitions, 30 for visual layouts, 45 for regular scenes, 60 for longer scenarios, 90 for large scale transitions with scenery/dialogue/interaction – use your judgement. Set yourself a total number of seconds as a target and put this as an equation on the sheet if need be. I do something like =SUM(E4:E150)/60
Where I total up the time estimates and divide by 60 to see an automatic update on how long into the plot I am.

“Notes” are more for you, if you have an idea of what should be in the scene or what should be referenced, put it here. Last but not least “Hook relation”. Every scene has to mean something in the plot. And sometimes its hard to keep track of a scene you wrote in page 7 when you are up to page 77. So desginate a hook note if its something you want to parlay into the script later – so as you build your plot, you can reconnect the hook into a loop, and thus layer your plot lines accordingly.

When you are in the flow, this is a great way to get your ideas moving and when you have a 2-3 hours with the creativity flowing, I was able to get close to 40 minutes of the story in place, as well as loose ideas for later scenes, open hooks that I need to close and how the ending will work out. I figure if someone gave me a whole day for this or a couple more 3 hour sessions, I’d be done with the outline. Then when I have less time and less creative flow, I can write out according to the outline.

Moving back to the spreadsheet though, there are other ways it can help you with establishing the outline and thus making the write up much smoother. Remember when I mentioned to make each column a different element, such as location? Highlight that top row and in the top menu of Excel (in the home menu tab on Excel 2007 at least) go to “Editing” and select “sort filter” and then “Filter”. Little arrows will go next to each of your column headers. Click on it and you can sort each column by location, character, scene number, etc. The filter option allows the rest of the columns to follow suit when shuffling up the spreadsheet. This way you can see which characters are getting more usage, which locations you have overused, etc. And to reset it back to “Scene order” just order by the first column of “scene number” and we’ll be back to the order of the scenes. I didn’t even really need to use this till after I had 30+ scenes in the spreadsheet, but its useful if you have a full length layout and need to polish up some aspects and/or make sure your plot hooks are closed up before doing your final write up.

Then from that, doing the final write up in proper screenplay format – well, its going to be faster than you’ve ever written up a screenplay before. And you’ll be able to freshly reference the excel sheet (which perhaps you have printed as reference for when you write the full version) in a way that you’ll remember each little bit about the plot, and make it more layered and cohesive overall. Was able to write up 20 pages from it in a 2 or 3 hours, so given a long day, it could be done. However, you will probably need to give it another final look at a later day, and read through, act it out accordingly (if you’re lucky enough to have a co-writer, that is one huge benefit). So its more like outline day 1, write up day 2, review day 3 and you’ll be pretty exhausted, but it can be done, and if you have that great idea, you dont want to let it fade. I’ve heard of books that say how to write a screenplay in 10 days. This method will at least reduce that.

Disclaimer: In reality, these days are spread out. Most people are only lucky enough to have an hour here and there to spare (as is the case with me doing insane hours at work, trying to have a life and not annoying the wife). So when saying a day or two, I mean two sets of 8-10 hours. If you have full 12+ hours to spare every day, well…. make the most of it! And obviously the question of a screenplay being “done” is another discussion.

Note: Some people don’t have Excel nor are willing to pay for it. However, Google Docs or Open office offer similar programs for free. I haven’t used them in a while, but for the basic spreadsheet layout, I assume these would suffice too.

The Right Way To Write A Screenplay

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Over the years I’ve had many an idea for a screenplay (often while intoxicated though). And I start it eager to plow through what I think is an awesome scene here and there, profound or hilarious or sometimes a combo of the two dialogue wise, a cool character mix and a story that has that right level of everything. I’ll burn through the first 10 or so pages that night and think, damn, this will be the shit. And then it fades out. Suddenly the script of many dreams has reached a dead end, or it goes off on a tangent that makes no sense. You try to keep going with it, catching occassional inspiration and rewrite motivations – to the point where the story was nothing like your initial idea. Not too long later, the story becomes another half script casualty. You’ve lost the plot, the scene transition is non-existent, its missing the hook and you have no idea how it was supposed to end anyway.

Yeah, I’ll admit, I’ve written a fair few screenplays where I either had no idea what the ending would be, or completely lost my way there. I just had a great idea and ran with it, and then one day wondered where the hell I was running to. And I know other people that have done this too over the years. In fact, not too long ago I thought thats how they all did it.

Now I know that this is also why people have unfinished screenplays. So here’s my advice, what I’ve learned (told you this blog would take you through the learnings too after all….). If you plan on writing a screenplay based on an idea one day and start writing dialogue, scenes, etc…. you are in trouble. It will usually fade out. Not always, as I’ve definately finished a few this way…. but the odds are against you.

Nowadays I have much less free time on my hands, and so sitting down and writing up loads of scenes is something that I rarely am able to do. However, I still manage to get some ideas every now and then, and scribble them down like old times. Instead of writing out a script, it made sense to just outline the scenes for now. Make this easier to convert into a full length, figure out what the plot is in the first place, figure out how it will end, get an idea of the structure overall before digging deep into character specifics like dialogue quirks. Then, when I have some time, yet not feeling too creative, I can churn through scenes quite fast and develop the properly structured screenplay. An outline takes much less time and allows you to get the most from your creative flow as well – those moments where you just have inspiration and ideas a plenty.

because we still print them out?

Either way, this is what I’m experimenting on a current screenplay, and it is working well. Very efficient time-wise too. Hopefully it will be converted relatively fast, and due to the outline (which was done very quickly), easy to keep track of what and where regarding plot and characters. It’s interesting to be able to write this way and I feel more confident with building the story idea while the creative juices are flowing – then finalizing and tweaking as I lay it out as a full length. It all makes sense. It’s also odd that they don’t really tell you to do this when you learn about screenwriting. But they should.

And perhaps to some slight disappointment (as its not some first time discovery that will revolutionize screenwriting, just something I feel like I was late to learn on), its also referred to by various other people. Such as this one at – quote: “writing a long, complex piece, such as a novel or screenplay from an outline will make the entire process easier, less angst-ridden, and — except for those of you with masochistic tendencies — far more pleasurable and satisfying. And, as with the Great Ones, your finished story will be better.”

And there are various tools to help you manage your outline a bit better when you have that idea.

So yes, I’m sold on outlines, not just its convinced me that the next one I write will require less “rewrite time”. However I still have ideas that will make this faster and even more efficient when translating thoughts and ideas to screenplays. I’ll save that for a later post though. Time to write up the current outline for now….. after all, its not going to write itself up, yet.

What to do with that Screenplay you wrote – stage 4

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

The proof is in the URL of this post. Write another screenplay.

And do other stuff, stay creative, stay switched on, no matter how busy you are.

That is my rationale behind this very short but hopefully meaningful post. Over the past two weeks, the only time I’ve had was minutes here and there. And if I was writing a screenplay the traditional way, I’d have a mere 2 pages. But luckily I’m working on a different way.

More info when there’s more time. And on part 5 of this series.

The Havenots

Friday, November 9th, 2012

We recently finished a full length screenplay called “The Havenots”. It took a fair bit of feedback and rewrites to get the flow how we wanted, but feel that its a good mix of current events, drams and dark (very dark) comedy. As we speak, it is being sent over to various contacts and entered in the odd competition here and there.

Here is an outline of the screenplay: Michael Rappaport III is one of the most prominent businessmen in the world who capitalizes on the misfortunes of others as if it were nothing more than a game in which the rules can be tweaked if need be. He has everything he could want, all within reach, yet also has nothing, losing track of why this was all being done in the first place.

Shiloh is a discontent young woman who has given up on the idea of “making something” out of her life. Forced to work two jobs (one of them at Michael Rappaport’s firm) to dig herself out of college debt and living expenses, Shiloh’s life has become a monotonous chore that she simply carries out. Day after day, she fades out further as life flies by her eyes.

But when she loses both of her jobs in the same day, she finds herself at a crossroads: does she continue to live the empty life she’s been living or does she awaken from her apathetic doldrums to seize control over her life? And what does that “control” even consist of?

Stephen is a homeless war vet who drifts from place to place, hiding from his past and surviving the present. On a chance encounter on the train, he sees Shiloh and follows her home. Once they realize that they have a shared past and contempt for the powers that suppress them, they team up against Rappaport to show them that it takes more than money to hide from the disappointments and shortcomings life has to offer.

In all cases, whatever you have, want, need, when you lose track of life, you truly lose it. This screenplay focuses on the lives of these three people – from different yet similar walks of life and how they cross each others paths in today’s world.

Contact Us if you would like any additional info or a copy of the screenplay (registered under WGA).